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UTHSC Researchers Awarded $500,000 to Test Mitochondria Therapy to Improve Neuromuscular Function Following Injury


Researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center have received a $500,000 grant over three years from the Department of Defense to test a novel strategy using mitochondria transplantation therapy for restoration of neuromuscular structure and function after injury.

Dr. Stephen Alway

Poor or incomplete muscle repair after an injury delays or prevents normal function and can decrease the quality of life. Mitochondria are the primary organelles (or subcellular structures) that produce energy, but they are also important for many biological processes including muscle growth. Traumatic muscle injury induces mitochondria damage, which lowers energy availability required for repair. Researchers suspect that having a sufficient supply of healthy mitochondria is essential to full recovery processes after muscle injury.

Stephen E. Alway, PhD, FACSM, professor and dean of the UTHSC College of Health Professions, is the principal investigator for the initiative. Co-investigators include James Carson, PhD, senior associate dean of Research and Graduate Studies, College of Health Professions; Junaith Mohamed, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences, College of Health Professions; and Michael Deschenes, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, College of William and Mary in Virginia.

“Our preliminary data suggest that mitochondria therapy is a novel therapeutic treatment that has a great potential for quickly restoring muscle injuries. This is an exciting approach that may help to restore damaged muscles after trauma, so that injured persons can resume full and healthy lives,” Dean Alway said.

Experiments will be conducted in a pre-clinical mouse model in which mitochondria carrying a fluorescent tag from donor tissues, will be transplanted to injured muscles. The efficacy of mitochondria therapy will be evaluated by assessing post-injury muscle and nerve structure and function. This project is expected to have therapeutic relevance for injured muscles with applications for returning military personnel to combat arenas, and restoring function of civilians after surgery, injury, or trauma.