Emmyon pioneers treatments for aging muscles

CORALVILLE, Iowa – Researchers at Emmyon, a biotechnology startup, and the University of Iowa have identified two natural compounds from fruits and vegetables that combat atrophy of muscles. Emmyon is working to translate those compounds into nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals that can help preserve or recover strength and muscle mass lost as a result of aging, malnutrition and disease.

Christopher Adams, professor of internal medicine in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and a founder of Emmyon, and his team recently published results of their study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The article describes their discovery of a natural occurring protein that causes muscle weakness and loss during aging. The protein is ATF4, and it alters gene expression in skeletal muscles, causing reduced muscle protein synthesis. Their research also found that ursolic acid, occurring in apple peel, and tomatadine, from green tomatoes, reduce ATF4 in aged muscle.

Researchers fed diets lacking or containing either 0.27 percent ursolic acid, or 0.05 percent tomatidine to elderly mice with age-related muscle atrophy and weakness for two months. The scientists found that the compounds increased muscle mass by as much as 10 percent, and more importantly, increased muscle quality, or strength, by 30 percent. The team concluded the size of these effects suggests the compounds largely restored muscle mass and strength to young adult levels.

These finding led the team to engineer and study a new strain of mice that lack ATF4 in skeletal muscle. Like old muscles that were treated with ursolic acid and tomatidine, old muscles lacking ATF4 were resistant to the effects of aging.

The study was funded by a Small Business Innovation Research grant to Emmyon, Inc. from the National Institute on Aging, as well as grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at the University of Iowa.

People begin to lose muscle mass and function, a condition known as age-related sarcopenia, sometime in their 30s. People who are physically inactive can lose as much as five percent of their muscle mass per decade after age 30. Even with exercise, muscle loss accelerates around age 75.

The primary treatment and preventative for sarcopenia is exercise—specifically resistance training. Hormone therapy has been investigated as a supplement to exercise, but has proved controversial due to increased risks of certain cancers and other serious health problems.

In an article in the journal Chemical and Engineering News, Adams said because compounds like tomatidine and ursolic acid naturally occur in common foods, the Food & Drug Administration usually designates them as “generally recognized as safe.” Ursolic acid is present in many fruits and herbs in addition to apples, including cranberries, plums, cherries, basil, oregano, rosemary and lavender.

However, many questions remain for investigation. How much of these compounds would a person need to consume? Do these foods remain safe eaten in such quantity? And would ursolic acid and tomatodine have the same effect in people as they did in the mice in the study? Answers to these questions can lead to more effective and safer therapies not only for the healthy aging population (growing in number each year) but for individuals with malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases and injuries that cause muscle atrophy. In addition, supplementation may prove helpful for athletes, pets and food animals.

Source: University of Iowa

Source: Chemical and Engineering News


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Jeannie Oliver

Jeannie Oliver is a writer and PR practitioner with a long string of awards behind her name. With a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Jeannie has worked as a high school journalism teacher, an editor for the Appaloosa Journal, and a media spokesperson for...