Media Contacts

Julie Kiefer

Manager, Science Communications, University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs
Phone: 801-587-1293

May 20, 2015 12:22 AM

Assistant professor of physical therapy Micah Drummond, Ph.D., wields a rare trait that is becoming increasingly sought after in the world of scientific inquiry: he’s as equally comfortable explaining an exercise regimen to an elderly study volunteer as he is staring down a microscope. His translational approach to uncovering the secrets of staving off muscle loss during aging has earned him the 2015 Outstanding Junior Investigator Award from the American Geriatric Society.

Exercise physiology has been a constant in Drummond’s career, ever since he was a graduate student at Brigham Young University just over ten years ago. His research first focused on how exercise impacts the inner workings of muscle cells. During his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas Medical Branch, his research expanded to encompass how protein and exercise promote healthy muscle in older adults. During his four years at the University of Utah, he has turned toward investigating how strengthening muscle can help the elderly offset the consequences of physical inactivity and recover faster following an injury or surgery.

“The more I learned about the overall benefits of exercise and proper nutrition, the more passionate I became in steering my research to more of a health related direction,” said Drummond. “I’m interested in optimizing nutrition and unique forms for exercise to benefit compromised populations, such as the elderly who suffer physical setbacks.”

Nearly one-third of senior citizens will become hospitalized, an event that can precipitate a downward spiral from which they never fully recover. It’s no surprise that patients who are hospitalized are typically physically inactive during their stay, either because they are sick or because there is little to do. Half of the elderly will lose a significant amount of muscle and muscle strength during this time, increasing their risk for complications and compounding health care costs.

On any given day, Drummond can be seen at the Clinical Services Core with the Utah Center for Clinical and Translational Science, a research hospital within the University of Utah hospital, perhaps carefully observing an elderly volunteer as he walks around a set of orange cones that dot the hallway. Later in the day he might bring samples to the lab, to assay the performance of metabolic pathways in muscle cells. He is evaluating how five days of hospital bed rest weakens the muscle, and whether there is an easy-to-perform, inexpensive regimen that can prevent, or lessen, the loss.

His hypothesis is that taking protein supplements will optimize muscle metabolism, so they process nutrients effectively. And that neuromuscular electrical stimulation – performed by a lightweight band wrapped around the thigh that administers small, harmless electric shocks that cause muscles to contract - will provide sufficient exercise. He is determining whether the one-two punch is enough to sustain muscle health, even in the bedridden.

The straightforward approach could have real benefits that extend beyond the aging population to those in critical condition who, out of necessity, are immobilized for extended periods.

“His work exemplifies innovative, translational, hypothesis-driven research,” said Mark Supiano, M.D., Executive Director of the University of Utah Center on Aging and professor and chief of geriatrics in the University of Utah School of Medicine.

“I have no doubt that he will continue to contribute major advancements in aging muscle and function as his career progresses.”

exercise elderly