MDI Biological Laboratory

BioME Awards $6,000 to Lab Ph.D. Candidate for Muscle Research

  • December 16, 2023

Romain Menard is working on age-associated muscle degeneration.

The laboratory of Romain Madelaine, Ph.D., is on an ambitious journey to understand and address age-related muscle degeneration – sarcopenia. The group is using a genetically modified zebrafish grown here called the “sarcofish”, whose prolific muscle-regenerating abilities can be altered in the lab, mimicking sarcopenia.

Much of the DNA underlying the ordinary zebrafish’s musculoskeletal systems drives human physiology as well. Yet while humans start to lose the ability to regenerate muscle as they grow old, zebrafish can regenerate muscle and other tissues throughout their lives.

Put that together with the accelerated aging of muscle tissue in the sarcofish and they make a unique model for studying how and why 60% of us are subject to muscle atrophy after the age of 80 (in our 30s many start to lose 5-10% of muscle mass each decade).

As part of the effort, a graduate student in Madelaine’s lab, Romain Menard, is embarking on a multi-level investigation of how a protein called Atrogin1 affects both degeneration and regeneration in sarcofish at the cellular, molecular and genetic levels.

“We want to see if we can regenerate the muscles and engender zebrafish with bigger muscles or healthier muscles,” Menard says. He is embedded at MDI Bio Lab while pursuing his doctorate at the University of Maine’s Department of Molecular and Biomedical Science.

The Bioscience Association of Maine’s seed-grant scholarship program aims to support new ideas that emerge from student research, and to assist in a goal it shares with MDI Bio Lab: training a new biomedical workforce in Maine.

“Romain’s application was well-written and thought through, with previous data support and specific and accomplishable goals,” says Billie Cary, Education Programs Manager at BioME. “We’re very excited to hear about how his project progresses.”

Menard says the $6,000 award will pay for one key component of the project: running an expensive analysis that’s made possible by the data-driven biotech revolution – a process called “RNA-seq” (pronounced RNA-seek).

The analysis will allow him to describe the types and amount of RNA in a sample, documenting gene expression and variance in the fish “transcriptome” – a snapshot in time that reveals all of the RNA molecules’ activities as they direct cellular functions.

“This RNA-Seq is exploratory;  it will just give us an indication what processes we might have that are involved,” Menard says. “And then we can match that to known genetic pathways to define which of these processes are regenerative.”

He believes the work could be important for the creation of therapies to slow down the development of sarcopenia in humans, or even prevent it.  And he adds that the BioME award is a valuable building block for financing innovative research projects at the graduate level, which even in early stages can be quite costly.

“This type of association award that proposes to help students to develop their own research ideas and project is very useful,” he says. “It develops our capacity to write further grants if the experiment is successful, and so we become more independent in our research.”