8th Annual Muscle Health Awareness Day @ York University

July 3, 2017

By Liam Tryon 

Skeletal muscle is the largest metabolic organ in the body and contributes to whole-body health through locomotion, heat production, and by acting as a storage depot for a number of nutrients critical for proper functioning of the body, such as glucose and lipids. An appreciation for and continued research on the mechanisms regulating muscle function, structure, and metabolism are essential for increasing our understanding of how these mechanisms may be altered by disease, aging, exercise, and other stimuli. 

The Muscle Health Research Centre
(MHRC) is a research unit at York University in Toronto, Ontario, devoted to the study of muscle and systemic metabolism and function. It is comprised of a group of over 20 researchers with interests and expertise in this field. Since 2010, MHRC has hosted the annual Muscle Health Awareness Day (MHAD), an event that brings together researchers in the field of muscle health who study cardiac and skeletal muscle, and the impacts that exercise, disease, aging, and development, among other factors, have in these tissues. 

This year, MHRC hosted its 8th Annual Muscle Health Awareness Day (MHAD8) on Friday May 26, 2017, at York University. The event featured invited talks from experts as well as poster presentations by students and trainees from MHRC and other universities in Ontario and Québec. We attracted over 120 attendees and featured an astonishing 50 poster presentations—the most this event has had since its inauguration.

Invited speakers presented forthcoming and cutting-edge research in three symposia throughout the day: 

Bioengineering, stem cells, and gene expression

Dr. Vladimir Ljubicic of McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) spoke first in this symposium. Dr. Ljubicic is a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Neuromuscular Plasticity in Health and Disease and presented recent data about the role of a specific family of proteins, the protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMTs), in regulating the response of skeletal muscle to exercise and inactivity. 

Dr. Milica Radisic was next to present. Dr. Radisic is a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Functional Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering from the University of Toronto where she heads the Laboratory for Functional Tissue Engineering. She showcased pioneering research on the creation of a “heart-on-a-chip” and “vasculature-on-a-chip,” which represent profound developments in tissue engineering. Her research is becoming an established method through which drug testing and novel therapies can be assessed on these (and other) tissues in a laboratory setting. 

Last in this session was Dr. Michael De Lisio, an up-and-coming researcher from the University of Ottawa, where he operates the Exercise and Stem Cell Physiology Lab. Dr. De Lisio presented data on the impact of exercise on stem cell function alongside more recently collected data on the role of exercise and diet in modifying bone marrow adipose tissue.

Muscle physiology and rehabilitation

The second symposium heard first from Dr. Chetan Phadke, a research scientist from the West Park Health Care Centre in Toronto. Dr. Phadke presented interesting human data demonstrating the substantial impact that a stroke has on balance and muscle spasticity. 

Dr. Kei Masani of the University of Toronto then discussed novel methods of applying electrical fields to muscle to stimulate muscle contraction, a technique called functional electrical stimulation. He demonstrated the impact that this technique can have in reducing muscle fatigue and its potential for therapeutic use in muscle rehabilitation.

Cardiac, vascular, and muscle pathophysiology

The third and final symposium began with Dr. Kim Connelly, a Scientist from the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Dr. Connelly presented new work from his lab on a protein found in heart muscle, α11 integrin, which has a newly discovered role in mediating the "cross-talk" between different cell types within the heart. 

Dr. Jefferson Frisbee, a Professor from Western University (London, Ontario), then presented data regarding microvascular dysfunction in metabolic syndrome and a thought-provoking take on how the microvascular network could perhaps be better described in terms similar to those of chaos theory. 

The final symposium ended with a presentation from Dr. Jonathan Schertzer, an Assistant Professor at McMaster University, who presented fantastic data on the role that inflammation signaling plays in the development of muscle dysfunction and myopathy. He also discussed how this signaling may be related to aging and the use of drugs called statins that are typically used to treat high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease.

MHAD8 was a remarkable success considering the great turnout and variety of high-quality presentations from both invited speakers and students. MHRC looks to continue this success with the 9th Annual MHAD scheduled for May 2018. 

Live tweets from this event can be viewed on Twitter via #MHAD8. For more information on the MHRC and upcoming events, please visit the MHRC website.

Thumbnail and photos by Cheryl Corson, York University

Filed Under: Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism

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