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Grant helps fund study on muscle growth

September 21, 2011

Professor Kim Huey awarded more than $400,000 for study

Kim Huey, associate professor of health sciences at Drake University, was recently awarded a multiyear grant totaling $414,990 to study factors involved in muscle growth. This research could ultimately have a positive impact on maintaining and improving muscle function in individuals with muscle weakness, thereby improving quality of life and reducing long-term medical costs.

The project was awarded with support from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health. Huey worked with Drake’s Sponsored Programs Administration to secure the grant.

Huey’s studies will examine the importance of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) during muscle growth. VEGF is well known to stimulate capillary growth in several tissues including skeletal muscle, but its specific role during muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) is less clear.

“As we age or as a side effect of some chronic diseases, muscle atrophy is a problem,” Huey says. “We are investigating cellular processes during muscle hypertrophy and whether VEGF is important during this growth.”

If scientists like Huey can determine factors that stimulate muscle growth, they can work to develop pharmacologic or exercise-based interventions to improve muscle strength and function.

These kinds of breakthroughs are especially important, given the aging demographics of the Baby Boomer population. Decreases in muscle strength limit mobility and increase susceptibility to injury, thus it is important to develop strategies to ameliorate the well-known declines in muscle function that occur with injury, disease and/or aging.

Although the final outcomes of this project are years away, this grant provides immediate impact by funding five undergraduate research positions in Drake’s muscle physiology lab. This will help strengthen the research mission of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and enhance the University’s commitment to interdisciplinary education and research.

An article about the research grant recently appeared in The Des Moines Register.