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Researchers find hope in fight against age-related muscle loss

DGIST scientists develop electroceutical technology capable of rejuvenating old muscles

By Kan Hyeong-woo

Published : Aug. 22, 2023 - 15:28

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An image shows how electrical stimulation can rejuvenate aged muscles in mice. (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology) An image shows how electrical stimulation can rejuvenate aged muscles in mice. (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)

Researchers in South Korea have developed the world’s first technology with the potential for treating sarcopenia, an age-related disorder with progressive and generalized loss of muscle mass and strength, Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology said Tuesday.

The research team led by Kim Min-seok, a biology professor at DGIST, turned to electrical stimulation as a solution to cope with sarcopenia.

The scientists first developed an electrical stimulation screening platform that can simultaneously stimulate 15 independent conditions using ultra-precision biochips. Through the platform, they were able to confirm how different electrical simulations could rejuvenate aged muscles derived from humans in various age groups. The researchers found that even young muscles could be regenerated with a certain type of electrical stimulation.

Based on the findings, the researchers conducted a six-week treatment program on aged mice. The results showed that the mice saw their muscles’ biomechanical attributes become younger with evidence of increased muscle mass, better muscle contraction and enhanced quality of muscle fibers. Applying the technology of next-generation sequencing, the study verified that the functions related to muscle formation and muscle differentiation improved.

According to a study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, about 13 percent of people aged 65 or older were found to be suffering from sarcopenia in Korea last year.

DGIST pointed out that muscle loss is not the only problem that sarcopenia causes. The age-related disorder can affect a person’s immunity and basal metabolic rate. It has also been linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Although there have been worldwide efforts to develop pharmaceuticals to treat sarcopenia, not much success has been achieved due to the developed drugs' low efficacy and failure to target specific skeletal muscle cells.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic ... restricting social activities, as well as the problem of the aging population in many countries, the number of sarcopenia patients has greatly increased,” said Kim.

“This research is meaningful as it suggests the possibility of a treatment for sarcopenia through electroceutical technology. As we confirmed that the optimized preconditions for electrical stimulation are different for muscle recovery depending on age group, we believe it will cause a paradigm shift in the development of customized electroceuticals in the future.”

The study was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, a United States peer-reviewed journal, on August 7.