When StrongPath co-founders Fred Bartlit and Steven Droullard first started work on their book Choosing the StrongPath: Reversing the Downward Spiral of Aging they were looking for a medical researcher that pioneered sarcopenia research and shared their passion for educating people about the importance of strength training as you age. They found that passion in Dr. Marni Boppart.
Dr. Boppart heads the Molecular Muscle Physiology Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she is also an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health and is full-time faculty at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. A couple of years ago, she was one of several faculty members to give an introductory presentation to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees on her research, which is focused on what happens at the molecular and cellular levels to help repair lost muscle due to injury, disease, and aging. That presentation is featured in a video posted on the school’s website. We wanted to share this introduction with you, our StrongPath readers, to help you get to know Dr. Boppart a bit better.
As the result of some of the research she and her fellow scientists have done, they were inspired to work toward a biological strategy to prevent or treat age-related disabilities. “We all recognize that we’re on the brink of an explosion in the population of individuals over the age of 65. But we know that exercise can effectively preserve health throughout the lifespan, but most individuals today do not, or in some cases, cannot exercise. Most of these individuals will lose on average the last 15 years of their life to disability, likely be in a residential facility.”
Dr. Boppart said she and her fellow researchers are excited about the potential to use cell-based strategies to prevent and potentially treat age-related disabilities. “But our work has just begun and the road to success in humans is long.”
She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of New Hampshire, a master’s degree from Creighton University, and her doctor of science degree (ScD) from Boston University. She did additional research for her degree at Harvard Medical School and postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois. Dr. Boppart said her career path was largely influenced by her parents. She often went to work with her mother who was Director of Food Services at a number of nursing homes and hospitals in New Jersey. “As a result of her strong influence, I volunteered nearly 300 hours in the hospital, obtained my emergency medical technician license and was employed as an ER technician and phlebotomist by the time I was 18,” Dr. Boppart recalled in a video produced for the U of I.
Her father died of cancer when she was just 13, but he too helped her develop her love of science and discovery. “Dad taught me how to be fearless. I think both of these traits—compassion for people and a fearless attitude—are essential to a life scientist, because all health scientists needs motivation and the ability to go forwards without knowing an outcome,” she said.
While studying biology as an undergraduate, Dr. Boppart joined the Air Force ROTC program. After graduation, she was commissioned as an officer and aerospace physiologist. “My job was to train aircrew members about the hazards of the high altitude environment, including hypoxia and G-forces. I loved it. I taught parasailing and earned my free fall parachuting wings.”
The more she learned about the core principles of physiology, the more she wanted to know. That’s what lead her to pursue graduate studies, including doing research alongside Dr. Roger Fielding at Harvard Medical School, a renowned medical scientist in the field of sarcopenia who is now at Tufts University and is one of the organizers of the International Conference on Frailty and Sarcopenia Research.
Currently in the Department of Kinesiology, Dr. Boppart teaches the principles of exercise physiology and endocrinology, and basic skeletal muscle physiology. She’s also consulted for the International Space Station and helped develop the human hamster wheel for the YOU! The Experience at the Museum for Science and Industry in Chicago.