Muscle resilience across the life course: from cells to society

About this network

The number of people living into old age is increasing rapidly, however although people live longer, there is a widening gap between ‘healthspan’ and lifespan. Adults in the UK now spend the last decade of life in poor health, placing a large burden on health and social care services. One of the major changes as the body ages is the loss of muscle tissue, with up to 50% of muscle mass being lost by eighth decade of life. Muscle tissue is vital for movement, posture, and metabolic homeostasis. The loss of muscle during ageing makes it harder to carry out day-to-day activities, and increases the risk of falls and fractures, as well as the risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes and dementia. Muscle loss is the single largest reason for losing independence in old age, so it is important to keep muscles resilient as we age.

When muscles age, several things happen: muscle fibres become smaller and fewer in number, the muscle contains more fat and fibrous tissue, and the ability of muscle tissue to repair and renew itself decreases. Not everyone ages in the same way - in fact there is a great deal of variation when we look at large numbers of older people. Some differences between people can be explained by genetic factors. Much of the remaining variation is due to individual life circumstances. Factors like exercise, nutrition, educational background and socioeconomic circumstances all play a role. Although scientists have worked hard to understand the causes of muscle ageing, it is a complex problem for which we need to find new approaches. We plan to move away from studying single systems in isolation and work towards a combined effort, where we study muscle ageing across all scales from the microscopic level to the scale of populations. We will join forces with researchers from other disciplines like mathematics, artificial intelligence, social sciences and geography to find new approaches to solving the big questions in muscle ageing. The aim of this network is to bring together researchers, patients, businesses and the people and organisations that benefit from research, offering new insights into muscle health and an understanding of the pathways leading to muscle ageing.