Dr. Roger Fielding Gives an Update on Sarcopenia Research

Roger A. Fielding, Ph.D., offers an honest take when he talks about the future of sarcopenia research. As the director of the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory (NEPS) at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass., he has the expertise to know what he is talking about.

As anyone who studies sarcopenia knows, this condition has flown under the radar in clinical circles and has of yet not even been recognized as a disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Depending on whom you talk to, there hasn’t been a lot of penetration thus far,” says Dr. Fielding, who is a member of AIM’s Science Advisory Board. “What is most surprising is that if you ask a lot of doctors, they don’t know about it.”

This reveals a sobering reality about a condition that could affect up to 50 percent of older adults.

“We’ve got to get more general practitioners to understand what it is,” he says. “Older patients need to know the problem they have getting up the stairs is because of loss of muscle. They know about arthritis and high blood pressure, but they don’t know that loss of muscle function is not some normal consequence of aging.”

While awareness among the general medical community has been lacking, there’s been progress on the regulatory front. The FDA has begun to take steps to recognize sarcopenia as a disease. This is extremely important. FDA recognition means it could approve a pivotal trial that targets aging-related sarcopenia.

The CDC is considering a unique ICD-10 diagnosis code for sarcopenia, and the FDA is working with stakeholders to qualify performance-based measures to support regulatory assessment of sarcopenia treatments. Two outcome measures being evaluated are measurement of gait speed and performance scores from short physical performance battery (SPPB) tests.

The progress with regulators offers hope that the research currently being done by sarcopenia experts will translate into meaningful therapies down the road.

Dr. Fielding’s own research at the HNRCA has yielded important findings into how muscle loss affects older adults. A current research project involves the effect of a specific set of micro RNA, the cell’s “messengers,” on the formation of skeletal muscle as an individual ages. “We are trying to use cellular approaches to understand what these micro RNAs regulate and see how this affects protein synthesis in aging muscle,” notes Dr. Fielding.

His lab is also investigating the interaction between dietary protein and exercise and the potential benefit to older adults with muscle weakness.

Dr. Fielding believes prevention plays a major role in staving off sarcopenia as an individual gets older. This condition advances gradually over the years, and many people don’t even realize they have it until they exhibit debilitating weakness.

He also believes when the FDA accepts sarcopenia as a disease state, the gates will open for the development of therapies that will not only enable better treatment of the condition, but offer possible cures.

Dr. Fielding and his research team at the HNRCA are doing their important part to help make sure that older adults will one day have a chance to live without the limitations of sarcopenia.

And in the meantime, they’ll work to educate others about this condition and what they can do to prevent it.

Watch this video below for more from Dr. Fielding: