October 11, 2012

New Texas A&M Program Translating Research in Aging To Real-World Patient Care

A burgeoning research program at Texas A&M University is focused on finding new treatments for older adults and extending the lives of patients of all ages. The Translational Research in Aging and Longevity (TRAL) group within the College of Education & Human Development at Texas A&M has a goal of taking research beyond the laboratory and into the real world.

Nicolaas Deutz and Marielle Engelen

TRAL Director Nicolaas Deutz and Co-Director Marielle Engelen

TRAL Director Nicolaas Deutz, M.D., Ph.D., Co-director Marielle Engelen, Ph.D. and their team of supportive, science and medical personnel are building a state-of-the-art laboratory in the Texas A&M Research Park. With their facility still under development, TRAL personnel have aspirations for the facility to become a full-fledged research center where the knowledge gained from research will be translated into care and clinical practice for patients.

“From bench to bedside, and beyond,” says Deutz in defining translational research. “It means that the research that is done here is being translated into something meaningful.”

The research will be focused on nutrition, exercise and metabolism related to aging and the common diseases of the aging population. Research findings will be used to treat patients with a variety of diseases and conditions including breast and lung cancer, cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“If you want to keep older adults in better condition, you must do something about the effects of these diseases,” explains Deutz. “We address key issues such as weight loss and loss of muscle mass, reduced function and mobility, decreased social interactions and depression. We’re working to develop nutritional supplements and exercise protocols to improve their overall condition and make them as strong as possible while they’re managing their disease. For someone about to start chemotherapy, for example, we could help them get into optimal condition before chemo and that will help them throughout the process.”

The group’s work will not only benefit the aged population, says Engelen, but will improve the health and longevity of people of all ages. “There are children with CF who have a life expectancy of 38 and we are working to improve their health so they can live longer. Longevity is about all people living long and healthy lives,” she explains.

Deutz agrees, saying, “It’s not unique to older people ― nutrition is for everyone. If your mother was keen on feeding you large amounts of food before the age of two, you have a higher chance of becoming obese. This is a basic method we are using, that you can improve someone’s health by a combination of supplements, exercise and eating the right foods.”

aging research lab under construction

Construction is currently underway on the TRAL laboratory, located in the Texas A&M Research Park.

The researchers say when they study a certain disease, it often teaches them how to deal with other diseases. “Responses of the human body can be the same for different diseases, so if you can find a nutritional program that works well for a patient with one disease, that may help another patient with a different disease,” says Deutz. “Whether it’s heart disease or cancer,  just feeding the patient more is not helping in weight gain and muscle mass, it’s the type of food they’re eating that is going to make a difference.”

The group’s work in nutrition can not only improve a patient’s physical health, say the researchers, but their mental health as well. “Patients with serious diseases such as cancer are often depressed and that may be related to a lack of certain amino acids,” says Engelen. “There are nutritional approaches to treating depression and that is something we are working on.”

When the program becomes more fully developed, Deutz and his team will consult patients and physicians, produce nutritional supplements and devise healthy eating and exercise plans. “People that are fighting a disease or just looking to be healthier as they get older should visit our website,” notes Deutz. “If someone has cancer, for example, they can contact us on the website and let us know they are interested.”

Deutz says a translational research approach to aging and longevity is not being used in very many places and will add a new dynamic to the area’s health services industry, supplementing and complementing patients’ medical care.

The group is also appreciative of its location in Texas A&M’s Research Park. “It will be easy for patients to find us,” says Deutz.

For more information about the Translational Research in Aging and Longevity group, go to http://ctral.org/ or phone (979) 224-0658.

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Media contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services at Texas A&M University at (979) 845-5591

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