Professor Lillycrop awarded 2022 Rank Prize PhD grant

We are delighted to announce that Professor Karen Lillycrop has been awarded the 2022 Rank Prize PhD grant. Karen is Professor of Epigenetics at the University of Southampton. She completed her undergraduate in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Imperial College, PhD at the University of Leicester and postdoc at University College London. Her research is focused on the mechanisms by which nutrition through altering the epigenome can affect susceptibility to a range of ageing  associated diseases such as such as sarcopenia, diabetes and obesity.

“The award of the Rank Prize PhD grant will allow us to employ a PhD student to investigate the basic mechanism by which the activity of specialised muscle stem cells,  responsible for the repair of muscle tissue, decline during aging and how Vitamin B3 supplementation may alleviate this defect,” explained Professor Lillycrop. “This will inform both nutritional recommendations and intervention strategies to improve muscle health in old age but also provide the PhD student with training in a wide range of both laboratory and computational skills which will be invaluable for the student’s future research career and applicable to a wide range of biological problems.”

The following is a brief summary of Professor Lillycrop’s research project:

As we age, we lose muscle mass but some individuals lose muscle at a faster rate, this is termed sarcopenia. Sarcopenia affects 14% of individuals aged  65-70 years, and 53% of individuals aged 80 or above. As muscle is essential for posture, mobility and metabolism, the loss of muscle has a significant impact on health, significantly increasing the risk of falls, fractures,  physical disability, and metabolic disease. It is the major cause of the loss of independence in old age but to date there is no effective treatment.

The maintenance of muscle tissue is dependent upon specialised cells termed muscle satellite cells, which are present in very low numbers in muscle tissue. Upon injury, the cells become activated and can form new muscle cells replacing damaged muscle tissue. However as  we age, the activity of these cells decline, leading to the loss of muscle tissue and strength. Our initial experiments suggest that the decline in muscle satellite cell function is due to an inability of the cells to recycle a molecule called NAD+ , which needed for energy production and the activation of muscle satellite cells. As NAD+ can be produced from Vitamin B3, this suggests that supplementation with Vitamin B3 may be able to overcome this deficit in NAD+  production and attenuate the decline in muscle satellite cell function during ageing.

Using the latest advances in single cell analysis, this project will

(a) Characterise the impairment in NAD+ production and recycling in muscle satellite cells and the effect on satellite cell function

(b) Determine whether supplementation with Vitamin B3 can improve satellite cell function

The findings will inform public health recommendations on Vitamin B3 intake in older populations and allow development of new intervention strategies and pharmaceutical targets  to reduce the effects of muscle ageing and improve quality of life in older age.