By Karen Angelo
The body’s ability to move with ease often gets taken for granted. But a pulled muscle, broken bone or inflamed joint can change that. Such injuries can cause debilitating pain and make the simplest movement impossible.
“When people have musculoskeletal problems, quality of life diminishes and health care costs rise,” says Assoc. Prof. of Chemistry Matthew Gage. “Movement is a central part of our lives, and yet we know little about how it occurs naturally and how to treat it from all levels.”
That’s where the study of biomechanics comes in. A new UMass systemwide research center, launched with a $25,000 grant by the UMass President’s Science & Technology Initiatives Fund, will study the science of how bone and muscle systems work under different conditions, with a focus on how these systems change as we age. The UMass Movement Research Center (UMOVE), led by Gage, includes a research team of scientists, chemists, biologists, clinicians, physical therapists and public health experts from across UMass Lowell, UMass Amherst and UMass Medical School.
“We are collaborating with each other to develop research projects that advance our knowledge of the process of movement from all levels of biological organization,” says Gage. The work could have far-reaching impact, he says: “The potential of this combined expertise could lead to new discoveries in biomechanics, advances in rehabilitation medicine and designs of robotic devices.”
Gage, who researches functional relationships in proteins, is already expanding the scope of his work. “Through discussions with team members, I have started to think about broader aspects of the proteins we are studying,” Gage says. “As a result, I’ve begun developing a project with several of the faculty associated with this center to explore the relationship between diet and muscle protein function.”
Improving the health of the older population is a key focus of the Center, but the majority of the discoveries could impact all ages.
“For some research questions, the ideal system to study might be of a young adult, but the discoveries from that work could provide valuable insights into conditions observed in older populations,” says Gage. “In other cases, discoveries from a study involving older subjects could lead to new assistive devices or physical therapy techniques that have the potential to benefit younger individuals.”