March 17, 2009 — Dr. Michael O. Thorner, a clinician and researcher at the University of Virginia Health System, was invited to present the 2009 Dale Medal lecture, given each year by the recipient of the Society for Endocrinology's highest honor.
Thorner, a leading expert in growth hormone regulation and professor of internal medicine at the U.Va. School of Medicine, was scheduled to lecture on his latest anti-frailty research Tuesday at the Society for Endocrinology's annual meeting in Harrogate, England.
According to the society, the Dale Medal honors researchers who have changed the understanding of endocrinology in a fundamental way.
In his lecture, "Healthspan: How Far Can It be Extended into Aging?," Thorner defines healthspan as "the period of life when people enjoy good health." As a researcher, his ultimate goal is to prolong healthspan so people have sufficient strength and health to live independently in their elder years.
One of Thorner's primary research interests has been reversing the decline in growth hormone levels that occur during aging. According to Thorner, growth hormone levels peak at mid-puberty and decrease progressively thereafter. This decline ultimately reduces muscle mass and contributes to the development of frailty.
In his latest study, published Nov. 4 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, Thorner and his U.Va. colleagues found that an investigational drug, MK-677, restored growth hormone secretion in the elderly to levels typically found in 20- to 30-year-old adults. Taken orally once a day, the drug increased the muscle mass of study participants, who ranged in age from 60 to 81.
While Thorner emphasizes that the MK-677 research was a small-scale "proof-of-concept" study, he says findings indicate that it may be possible to restore growth hormone levels and safely extend people's healthspan.
MK-677 is the property of Merck & Company, Inc., which will ultimately determine if further research is warranted.