OU Researchers Study Muscles And Nerves

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The Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute at Ohio University is doing numerous research projects to learn more about the muscle, nerve and other related maladies that we suffer through every day.

Some of these projects need human subjects

I signed on and here's my report of the experience in being probed and prodded in the name of science.

Intracortical Mechanisms of Muscle Weakness:  Age-Related Differences in Muscle and Nerve Function.

That's the title of this $600,000 study being done by Brian Clark.

"It's well established that as individuals age and we get older, that there's dramatic reductions in muscle strength and motor function, motor control — the ability to perform fine motor tasks plus the ability to generate high forces." says Clark.  "But the mechanisms of that are not fully understood."

Clark explains the purpose is to determine what differences exist in the nervous system between younger and older adults.

He says, "So what we're trying to do is determine the neurological underpinnings or the neurological explanations that are associated with muscle weakness in older adults."

There are male and female participants in two age groups — in their 20s and over 60.

And just to be clear, I'm in the latter group.

My first session is about 30 minutes long and conducted by Rich Hoffman.

Hoffman is a research assistant who checks me out physically and mentally to see what kind of shape I'm in.

Session two is longer, all physical and more rigorous.

Most of the time I've got wires attached to my left arm to record the electrical activity of my muscles.

Now I start to earn my pay, and yes, I do get paid — $50 for subjecting myself to all of this.

Part of the study has me struggling against a weight resistance machine to measure muscle force.

Another part has me getting kind of "boinked" in the head with magnetic stimulation.  

And there's electrical stimulation, too — of my arm.     

The stimulations only last for milliseconds and the pain is minor but I'm glad when they're done.

The whole experience reminds me of donating blood — it's not fun but I'm glad I did it.

Clark says my data will be analyzed with the other 60 or so people who are being tested and he'll have results in about a year.

"This is part of a three year long (National Institutes of Health)-funded study and we just started into the second year of that grant," he says. "The aging work we are currently doing, it's my expectation that we'll probably be collecting further data for the next 9 to 12 months."

Those findings hopefully will produce means for doctors to help patients with various health problems, particularly older adults facing physical disability due to muscle weakness.

Clark says, "If we can understand what's going on at the level of the nervous system, what's causing that, then we develop better therapeutic strategies, whether that's coming from…a drug, or whether it be from a physical therapy or rehabilitation approach or exercise-type of approach.  But before we can develop that rational strategy, we have to understand where we have to target, whether that's at the level of the brain, (or) at the level of the spinal cord."

Clark is still looking for volunteers for his study and so are many of his fellow OMNI researchers and the need is great.

The number to call to volunteer is 740-593-2233.