A team of researchers from the University of Kentucky Colleges of Health Sciences and Medicine, and collaborators from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, were awarded a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study muscle and physical function recovery after acute respiratory failure.

Funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the goal of this clinical observational study is to determine cellular processes of the underlying failure to recover muscle and physical function in survivors of critical illness after an ICU stay.

“The significance of this grant lies in the fact that people who enter the hospital and survive a stay in the ICU for critical illness are often left severely disabled and suffer from skeletal muscle atrophy and weakness that impairs physical function,” said Principal Investigator Esther Dupont-Versteegden, PhD, director of the UK Center for Muscle Biology and the Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program. “This results in a decrease in quality of life and often an inability to return to work and to participate in activities that were part of their life before their critical illness. Currently, there is no standard treatment for the muscle dysfunction in these patients. This grant seeks to determine the trajectories for functional recovery or lack thereof, and the cellular processes in muscle underlying these changes in physical function.”

The study team hopes to determine how different trajectories to functional recovery are associated with differences in the cellular processes in skeletal muscle tissue and physical function measurements.

“In particular, we are interested in how changes in mitochondrial function, protein synthesis and collagen deposition change over time with recovery after an ICU stay and how this correlates with changes in fatigue and weakness,” said Dupont-Versteegden.

“This knowledge will help us determine what kind of interventions will be best suited for this population of patients and potentially guide us toward more personalized treatments depending on the kind of physical function declines the patients experience,” said Kirby Mayer, DPT, PhD, clinician and researcher in the ICU Recovery Clinic at UK, as well as one of the investigators of the research. “The next step for future research will be developing an intervention study from the knowledge gained from the current grant.”

The total amount of the award is $2,249,868, and the five-year study began this September. The team of multidisciplinary investigators includes UK’s Dupont-Versteegden; Mayer; Ashley Montgomery-Yates, MD; Anna Kalema, MD; Jamie Sturgill, PhD; Phillip Kern, MD; and Stacey Slone; the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Peter Morris, MD; and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s Benjamin Miller, PhD.