The ageing of skeletal muscle results in a progressive loss of mobility that decreases the quality of life and has major economic and social consequences for the society at large. Increasing muscle weakness is a major component of muscle ageing. In the elderly, muscles become atrophic (loss in muscle mass) and weaker (loss in muscle force), more susceptible to damage and consequently regenerate and recover more slowly than was the case in their youth. Research, much of it sponsored by FP5 programmes in which many of the present applicants participated, has clearly described the extent and nature of the age-related changes in muscle and associated tendons and has identified several likely mechanisms involved in muscle weakness.
The challenge for FP7 is to take this work forward first to identify the relative importance of muscle weakness in the european population today, to propose standards to define healthy ageing in order to identify age-related muscle weakness; secondly to identify molecular mechanisms and pathways which are responsible for this weakness and which may be targeted to combat age related muscle weakness, and thirdly to identify therapeutic strategies to prevent muscle loss and weakness, increase health span and enhance recovery following injury or immobilisation.
The approaches which we will take to understand and combat muscle weakness in the aged population and to improve healthspan can be defined in several steps: the collection and collation of data and samples, the assessment of physiological and functional parameters, the understanding of the various biological mechanisms involved, leading through integration to the development of strategies and their translation for the general European population. In order to develop efficient countermeasures, the consortium will integrate data from genetics and epidemiology, molecular and cellular biology, physiology, biomechanics, as well as clinical and public health aspects, to ensure optimal scientific synergy from the leading European specialists and companies.
The communication of the results will be directed towards the scientific and medical community through publications, and to the general public through the contacts that will be developed with the national geriatric associations or societies. These communications will involve: (1) lay publications, (2) public exhibitions, (3) formulations of guidelines.