Epidemiology of metabolic diseases and healthy ageing (Thorand)

Department / Institute
- Institute of Epidemiology, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health


- Institute for Medical Information Processing, Biometry, and Epidemiology (IBE), LMU Munich
Subject area
Epidemiology of metabolic diseases and healthy ageing
Project title
Bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA)-derived parameters, muscle quality and healthy ageing
Name of supervisor
Prof. Dr. Barbara Thorand, MPH
Number of open positions
Language requirements
Very good spoken and written English skills (IELTS 6.5 or higher)
Academic requirements
We seek a candidate with a M.D. or a master’s degree in the field of epidemiology, public health, nutritional sciences, or any other degree qualifying for being admitted as a PhD candidate to the LMU medical faculty with strong statistical and analytical skills.

The candidate will be encouraged to apply for the structured PhD program in Medical Research in the field of “Epidemiology and Public Health” (if suitable) after acceptance to the LMU-CSC program (https://www.en.mmrs.med.uni-muenchen.de/promotionsmoeglichkeiten_en/phd_en/index.html).
Project time plan
Full Doctoral Study-Model: 48 months

Project description

Muscle strength is considered one of the best measures of muscle changes in the course of ageing and is more closely connected to physical disability and functional limitations in older adults than muscle mass. Of note, in the course of ageing, the decline in muscle strength is greater and quicker than the loss of skeletal muscle mass. This can be ascribed to the deterioration in muscle quality caused by the atrophy and redistribution of fibres, the decline in muscle metabolism, fat infiltration, myofibrosis and reduced neuromuscular activation.

Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is a simple, non-invasive, safe, relatively cheap, and reproducible method for assessing body composition and nutritional status in clinical practice. It determines the electric impedance of an electric current passing through the body which consists of resistance and reactance. The most common BIA-derived body composition parameters include total or appendicular skeletal muscle mass, fat free mass and total body fat mass. The phase angle (PA) is another BIA-derived parameter which reflects changes in the amount as well as the quality of soft tissue mass (i.e., cell membrane permeability and soft tissue hydration). Therefore it seems reasonable to monitor the quality of muscles through PA measurements. Indeed, previous studies have shown that the PA and other BIA-derived parameters could reflect muscle performance and functionality, but earlier studies have been limited by a cross-sectional study design and relatively small sample sizes.

The aim of the present research project is 1) to further elucidate cross-sectional associations between the PA and other impedance parameters and appendicular skeletal muscle strength and functional performance measures in older adults 2) to assess the role of BIA-derived muscle parameters for the prediction of functional decline, risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes or coronary heart disease and mortality in older adults and 3) to derive reference values for BIA-derived muscle parameters for healthy middle-aged and older adults with the ultimate aim is to improve methods of monitoring “healthy ageing”. The work of the PhD student will mainly deal with advanced analyses of existing data from the Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg (KORA) and the German National Cohort study (NAKO Gesundheitsstudie).

  • KORA is a research platform operated by the Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health) to examine the links between health, disease and the living conditions of the population. The main emphasis is on diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and lung diseases as well as environmental issues (https://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/en/kora/).
  • The NAKO Gesundheitsstudie has recruited men and women aged between 20 and 69 for a medical examination in 18 study centers throughout Germany between 2014- 2018. Currently the first follow-up is ongoing. The aim is to investigate the causes of chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, rheumatism, infectious diseases, and dementia in order to improve prevention, early diagnoses and treatment of these very widely spread diseases (https://nako.de/informationen-auf-englisch/).

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