Lots of Progress, Much More to Learn in Study of Sarcopenia

A recently published summary in Age and Aging gives a good overview of the progress that researchers have made in understanding the onset, disease pathway and treatment possibilities for sarcopenia and related functional decline. Areas of promise include studies on oxidative damage and its relation to muscle function, as well as observations of changes between muscle fibers and the central nervous system, which researchers are only beginning to understand. Scientists are also learning more about the effect of exercise and diet interventions to manage sarcopenia in older patients. Additionally, researchers are increasingly turning to a “lifecourse approach” to understand how skeletal muscle develops and degrades over the entire life cycle, and not just in later life stages, as a means to unravel the mechanisms that lead to age-related muscle loss.

With nearly half of older Americans suffering from sarcopenia and related functional decline at a cost of billions of dollars each year, age-related muscle loss has quickly become a top research priority. Finding a way to effectively treat, prevent or even reverse sarcopenia has become increasingly imperative to help the millions of aging patients who are at risk of frailty and loss of independence.

In spite of these research gains and “emergence of a number of candidate therapies,” significant roadblocks still stand in the way to fully treating or preventing severe functional decline in older patients, namely “an operational definition [that] is needed to allow development and evaluation of interventions for prevention or treatment.” Without these outcomes measures, it will be difficult for researchers to identify safe and effective agents to help older patients who often manage multiple chronic conditions simultaneously.

The AIM Coalition is working to open doors for greater levels of innovation and research in the areas of sarcopenia and related functional decline in older patients. Though researchers continue to learn more about the complexities of sarcopenia, establishing a regulatory pathway with agencies like the FDA and CMS are crucial steps that must be taken to allow for greater ease in the development and evaluation of safe treatments to assure the health and independence for older Americans.