Dr Andy Philp, group leader in the Diabetes and Metabolism Division at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, is an exercise physiologist who leads the Mitochondrial Metabolism and Ageing laboratory. Dr Philp’s research vision is to harness the effects of exercise into therapies for diseases of ageing. To achieve this, research in the Mitochondrial Metabolism and Ageing group is focused on identifying signal transduction pathways that are important in metabolic control of skeletal muscle, using this molecular blueprint to develop exercise, dietary, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical therapies to modulate healthspan.
Ageing is associated with a progressive decline in skeletal muscle mass and strength, a condition known as sarcopenia. Although variable across individuals, it has been estimated that loss of skeletal muscle occurs at a rate of 1-2% per year after the age of 50, with losses in strength occurring more rapidly, such that older muscles become disproportionately weak. Sarcopenia leads to increased frailty, loss of mobility, an increased risk of falls/fractures, a diminished quality of life, and in some cases, premature mortality. 3.7 million people in Australia are currently over 65 years old (one-in-seven), with projections suggesting this number will more than double to approximately 8.7 million by 2046 (one-in-five). It has been estimated that approximately 30% of those aged 75-84 suffer from sarcopenia, therefore, based on these numbers, over 330,000 people in Australia would currently be considered sarcopenic, with this number predicted to exceed 780,000 by 2046. Accordingly, there is a clear and pressing need to develop targeted therapeutic strategies to alleviate the debilitating effects of sarcopenia.
A fundamental cellular process thought to be central for healthy ageing is the maintenance of mitochondrial function (the principal energy producing organelles of the cell). During ageing there appears to be natural decline in mitochondrial function, reflecting reduced skeletal muscle oxidative capacity, with environmental factors such as inactivity and poor nutrition exacerbating the rate of decline. Dr Philp will use the support of the Al & Val Rosenstrauss fellowship to study (1) the causal relationship between reduced mitochondrial function and the onset of sarcopenia and (2) to test whether increasing mitochondrial function with nutraceutical and pharmaceutical modulators of mitochondrial energetics, remodelling and degradation can prevent the onset of sarcopenia. To achieve this aim, Dr Philp’s fellowship will follow a translational pipeline, with initial research using model systems of accelerated ageing such as the nematode c. elegans, through to pre-clinical studies in elderly human volunteers. The overarching goal of the fellowship is to determine whether mitochondrial targeted therapeutics are viable treatment strategies to combat sarcopenia and by extension promote human healthy ageing.