How healing happens

By understanding how muscle tissue repairs itself, Adam Johnston at the University of Prince Edward Island hopes to find ways to combat aging and improve athletic performance
Colleen Seto
University of Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island
A conceptual drawing showing the muscle structure of a human shoulder and a burst of light to indicate pain. Medical icons in the background.

The ability to heal ourselves. It may sound like a superpower, but in fact, our skeletal muscle can heal itself and regenerate. How this miracle happens remains a mystery, but it's one that Adam Johnston aims to solve. By understanding how our tissues undergo repair following injury and how exercise can support the building of new proteins, we can “improve human health through preventative and regenerative medicine strategies,” says the assistant professor in the University of Prince Edward Island's (UPEI) Department of Applied Human Sciences.

“As we age, our bodies lose the ability to repair themselves, which ultimately leads to disease and morbidity,” says Johnston. “If we can better understand how stem cells maintain our tissues, we can potentially develop strategies to mitigate the effect of disease or improve tissue repair following injury.”  

Johnston's research program is dedicated to uncovering the genes and molecules that allow skeletal muscle to adapt and repair itself by studying cells, both animal and human. By visualizing the activity of muscle stem cells and subsequently examining how exercise and proper nutrition influence their function, Johnston hopes to discover methods of preserving muscle tissue both to combat disease and aging, and to improve athletic performance.

He also plans to build upon his previous research, which found that the nervous system plays an important role repairing multiple tissues throughout the body. “We are now trying to understand the mechanisms responsible for this and how nervous system dysfunction contributes to chronic diseases and muscle pathology.”

Through new CFI funding, Johnston can further his work with expanded research capacity as his lab will acquire a state-of-the-art imaging system, a cell culture suite and tools to measure muscle performance, establishing a skeletal muscle health and stem cell research facility at UPEI.