Researchers at the Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity helped Caldwell resident Dan Roper breathe again.
In 2015, following years of unhealthy habits, Roper was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). An irreversible progressive lung disease that causes increased breathlessness, COPD affects more than 16 million people in the U.S.
To cope with his condition, Roper turned to the Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity (CTRAL) in Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development. Under the ongoing guidance of its faculty and staff members, he reclaimed his life.
Founded in 2013, the CTRAL is dedicated to research on nutrition, exercise and metabolism and how these factors affect common diseases associated with age. “Our mission is to help people live longer and healthier lives through real-world care and results,” said Marielle Engelen, the center’s co-director. “One of our focuses is increasing the knowledge of the effects of COPD, which is characterized by chronic airflow limitation that is irreversible even after intake of medication.” To aid their understanding of COPD, the center’s researchers study the role of certain macronutrients and how they affect metabolic changes in the body. They aim to understand how they can control these changes through nutritional intervention and exercise.
For example, CTRAL scientist Renate Jonker studies the effects of fish oil supplementation on stimulating muscle growth in older individuals with COPD. Adults with COPD typically experience inflammation throughout their entire body along with symptoms of muscle loss. Because fish oil is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, it could be an important dietary supplement to combat the disease.
When Roper was diagnosed with COPD in 2015, he lost all hope. All he knew about the disease was what he saw in advertisements on television, and they painted a discouraging situation.
“I was devastated,” Roper said. “I was morbidly obese, and my health was in a total tailspin to the point where I couldn’t even get out of a chair.”
The tides turned after Roper saw a newspaper advertisement from the center calling for participants in a COPD study. He reached out, thinking he could improve his condition while helping researchers find out more about the disease. He had no idea how much of an impact he would make on the scientific field or the improvements he would make to his own health. Upon arrival, Roper was greeted by encouraging staff members who immediately assured him that there were steps he could take to recover his health. “That was my first glimmer of hope,” Roper remarked. “I knew I had come to the right place.”
As a research participant, Roper was involved in various tests to monitor how his body processed protein. These included drawing and examining his blood and measuring his muscle strength and endurance over time. In addition to each study, Roper started to understand the importance of proper nutrition and exercise. Little by little, he began to exercise daily by getting work done around the house. His persistence and new life outlook helped him lose a total of 96 pounds in two years. Now, Roper no longer needs blood pressure and heart medications that he once required.
Roper enjoyed his time at CTRAL so much that still participates in studies. “My health has turned a hundred-fold, and it’s all because of the care given to me,” he said. “They treat me like an equal, and that made me want to come back and keep participating. These people turned my life around.”
Thanks to his improved health, Roper can again enjoy his favorite hobby—woodworking. On any given day, he can be found in his woodshop building an assortment of furniture and house fixtures.
COPD is not the only focus of CTRAL researchers. Studies also concentrate on cancer, heart failure, obstructive sleep apnea, mild cognitive impairment and dementia, and autism spectrum disorder.
The center is housed in the new Human Clinical Research Facility, a 21,500-square-foot building that opened in April to advance research and education in human health, performance and well-being. The center consists of an exercise and rehabilitation facility, a metabolic kitchen for nutritional studies and a clinical research unit with 12 overnight beds. Also housed in the facility is the college’s Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory, which focuses on the role of exercise and nutrition in relation to performance.
To further its important and life-changing research, the CTRAL seeks private research funding and a $1 million naming gift. Research funds can be endowed starting at $25,000 and would support a specific researcher’s studies. A $1 million naming gift would provide support for revolutionary research while also funding stipends for graduate students and lab associates.