Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Future research at CIMA

MRes students tell us about the future research that is being undertaken at CIMA.
I’m looking at how vitamin D and physical activity, so moving around, may help with knee osteoarthritis symptoms. We’re looking at people who are older and obese, so people who are high-risk. There’s been some studies that have shown that as your vitamin D gets lower, knee osteoarthritis gets worse. So we wanted to see if giving people vitamin D did the opposite and improved your arthritis. And the same, exactly the same, with the activity as well. As your activity goes down, your arthritis again, gets worse. So we want to see if giving these vitamin D and activity programmes to people would make them feel better. We’re hoping that it could possibly be something picked up at a very early stage.
So for example, if you go to the doctor with some problems with your knee and you have arthritis, that they could check your vitamin D level, or they could ask you how much you are moving around, and if that is a problem, then they can see to that and then hopefully that will improve things for you later on. And we’re also hoping that it will slow down the progression of the disease, so as you may know, some people will have to have their joint replaced. So we’re hoping it will extend the time that people can have their real knees in place without having them replaced by a prosthetic joint.
This is a study of high-dose vitamin D supplementation in vitamin D deficient, post-menopausal women. The reason that we’re doing this study is to try and work out what the best way is to measure somebody’s vitamin D status. Also, sometimes when you give people a really large dose of vitamin D in one go, they can have a tendency to fall. And so part of this study is to look at why people fall, what’s the mechanism? An attractive way to give somebody vitamin D is to give them the dose as a one-off, as a bolus dose. And the reason for that is because with that, there’s no ongoing issues of compliance.
So you can be sure that the person has had the dose, and also the patient doesn’t have to worry about taking tablets every day. So a really nice way of treating somebody is to give them this one-off dose. However, we want to know what the optimum dose is, where we improve their bone health, we improve their muscle function, but we don’t cause them any harm. So, we don’t make them fall, for example. When we find out what the optimum dose is to give somebody, that can then be rolled out clinically. And also it will hopefully help to standardise the treatment as well across different centres.
I originally studied psychology, actually, but the part of psychology that interested me the most was to do with eating disorders. And so I then enrolled on to a nutrition Master’s, a nutrition degree, and that really led me to be more and more interested in vitamin D and bone health. And then I got funded by CIMA to do a PhD into musculoskeletal ageing.
I’m interested in investigating how do signalling pathways behave in aged skeletal muscle. And more specifically, how redox signalling pathways behave. So these are pathways that get activated every time we perform a period of exercise, and when we grow old, these same signalling pathways stop becoming activated. And so we’re trying to investigate why this happens. There was some evidence in the scientific literature that what may lay behind this dysfunctionality is increased levels of reactive oxygen species in the muscle that we accumulate over age in many tissues.
And so what I use is a combination of computer simulations and targeted experimental measurements to try and figure out the potential interference points by which these reactive oxygen species may interfere with the signalling processes that occur during exercise. Exercise is known to be a quite powerful lifestyle intervention for the elderly population, for them to retain function of different tissues and just their overall well-being and autonomy. But we also know that if a young person performs the same period of exercise, the beneficial responses are actually much stronger in them.
So actually, if we try and rescue this effect and we try to get the same strength of the response in older individuals, who are actually improving the efficacy of exercises as a lifestyle intervention for the elderly, at the end of the day, I want to really get the best intervention we have and make it even better. I’m quite interested because ageing is such a nebulous thing. It’s very difficult to pinpoint and define, and I really believe that through mathematical modelling and mathematical methods, we can actually bring a lot of coherency to how we understand ageing as a process.
So I’m just really interested in seeing what we can capture and what we can’t capture through these frameworks, I think that’s also useful to know.
I’m looking at the impact of physical inactivity on musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and metabolic health. So we all know that exercise, physical activity is good for us. What we don’t know is how bad inactivity is. As a nation we’re becoming more and more inactive due to a range of reasons, really, like working a lot of sedentary jobs, transport - a lot of sitting in cars, that kind of thing - playing games. And even public convenience, a lot more sitting down. So we want to look at the impact of this, and what 14 days of inactivity can actually do to the body.
Trends show that as you’re older, things like bone density, muscle strength, muscle mass, everything - it’s all declining, so it’s all what we expected. But despite that, all our subjects did similar levels of physical activity to start with. So they’re all doing similar kind of physical activity levels. However, the older people were showing poorer muscular function, poorer metabolic health and poorer cardiovascular health. So it could suggest that they might be more susceptible to the effects of inactivity.

CIMA host regular meetings where members from Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle can get together and listen to the latest research. At these meetings, students on the Musculoskeletal Ageing Master of Research course (MRes) and PhD candidates have the opportunity to present their research projects.

We spoke to PhD candidates (many of whom are MRes graduates) Rebecca Brown, Simon Bowles, Alvaro Martinez Guimera and Juliette Norman to find out about some of the research that is being undertaken at CIMA.

Are there any subjects that you would like CIMA to research?

Continue learning

Musculoskeletal Ageing MRes

With dramatically ageing populations worldwide, Musculoskeletal Ageing is fast becoming one of the key global public health challenges of the future, and researchers and clinicians trained in this area are consequently highly sought after.

If this is a subject that interests you, you may wish to consider our unique one-year research masters programme in Musculoskeletal Ageing. The course focuses on understanding why our bones, joints, ligaments and muscles function less well as we age, and how age-related decline of the musculoskeletal tissues and age-related clinical disorders (such as Osteoporosis, Arthritis and Sarcopenia) can be prevented and treated. You can find out more on our website.

Another FutureLearn Course from Newcastle University – Ageing Well: Falls

In this four-week course you can explore why people fall, discover practical methods to reduce the risk of falling and recognise when to seek expert help. Register your interest here.

This article is from the free online

The Musculoskeletal System: The Science of Staying Active into Old Age

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now