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UPDATE: As of September 2012, Lawrence is enrolled in a Ph.D. program in biology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Following his Kannapolis award, his Ph.D. program is fully funded.

Young researcher studies aging

Growing up in a small Central Valley farming town, Marcus Lawrence spent his summers working at jobs involving physical labor. “It taught me to appreciate hard work and the outcomes produced from it,” he said.

That lesson paid off at CSU Monterey Bay, where, through hard work, he discovered the allure of research.

Marcus Lawrence (right) at Appalachian StateEn route to earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 2010, Lawrence presented the results of his research at meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Kinesiology Professor Kent Adams said, “Hands down, Marcus is the best undergraduate I’ve ever worked with.”

Now a graduate student at Appalachian State University, Lawrence has earned a prestigious fellowship funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will allow him to work on problems associated with aging.

“Aging has been an interest of mine since working with Dr. Adams,” Lawrence said. “I see the numbers of older adults growing – not only in the U.S. but around the world. This group will soon be costing our economy a lot of money for health care.

“I’d like to help prevent this health care burden by finding ways to prevent or reduce age-related loss in function that older adults experience.”

Called the Kannapolis Scholar Fellowship, the 15-month grant will support his work at Appalachian’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science, as well as research at the North Carolina Research Campus for two summers.

“After I completed my first research study, I was hooked, and ever since then I have wanted to pursue a Ph.D.,” Lawrence said. “The training I will receive and the research collaboration I’ll be part of as a result of this fellowship will propel me to a top-tier doctoral program.”

He’ll use the fellowship to study the effects of a plant substance from Uzbekistan and parts of Central Asia in mitigating muscle and strength loss that occurs with aging. He’ll prepare an extract from the plant Ajuga turkestanica, and then feed it to mice that are the equivalent of a 65-year-old human. Depending on the outcome of the study, the extract could then be tested on human volunteers.

“Previous research has shown the plant extract increases strength in young animals and protein synthesis in muscle cells,” said Dr. Kevin Zwetsloot, one of Lawrence’s research mentors. “Those are two of the problems that occur with aging. We lose muscle when we get older – our ability to build protein decreases.”

Lawrence said his goals are to earn a Ph.D., complete a post-doctoral training fellowship, and join the faculty at a university where he can teach and conduct research.

“My research will continue to focus on ways to combat age-related diseases, but also to expand that to include ways to use exercise to help combat illnesses that are not age related, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

He credits his experience at CSUMB with much of his success.

“CSUMB was quite possibly the greatest thing to happen in my life,” Lawrence said. “I was accepted to larger – or what others might call more prestigious – universities, but none of them would have been as perfect for me. It was an ideal fit,” he said.

“Dr. Kent Adams, Dr. Trish Sevene-Adams and Dr. Henrik Kibak are the reason I’m succeeding in the fashion I am now. And, I would not have been able to accomplish nearly as much were it not for UROC – the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center – and the opportunities it provided involving research, networking and disseminating results.”

To learn more about UROC, click here.

To learn more about the kinesiology program at CSUMB, click here

Photo courtesy of Appalachian State University News Office
Dr. Kevin Zwetsloot (left), with Marcus Lawrence in a lab at Appalachian State. Lawrence is a 2010 graduate of CSUMB's kinesiology program.