Christy Carter, Ph.D.

christy carter

Christy Carter, PhD, Associate Professor in the UAB Department of Medicine’s Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care, has been an active UAB Center for Exercise Medicine (UCEM) member since June 2018. In the role of Scientist, her work related to studying aging rodent models has been of great support to UCEM’s human studies.

“We are thrilled that UAB successfully recruited Dr. Carter,” said Marcas Bamman, PhD, Director of UCEM. “She brings a wealth of experience in aging research, mentoring, and training. Her expertise in rodent behavior models and assessments will certainly bolster the burgeoning UCEM Animal Exercise Biology Core. I welcome her leadership and collaborative spirit.”

Carter earned her PhD in Experimental and Biological, Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience from the University of North Carolina. Her research interests focus on studying animal models of aging and how to keep them physically fit as they age. Carter’s major contribution to the field of aging has been in establishing rodent models/intervention strategies related to functional decline in aging.

“Rats have similar age-related changes as humans”, Carter said. “Notably, just like humans, rats lose muscle mass and gain fat mass as they age, and this change is related to declining physical and cognitive performance. Exercise is a powerful protector against these changes and even more so when combined with various pharmacological interventions.”

This area of research directly led her to work closely with multiple clinical researchers and help develop human clinical trials using a similar approach. She works with Thomas Buford, PhD, Associate Director of UCEM, to conduct studies on rats and translate findings from those to UCEM’s human studies. They particularly focus on investigating the use of anti-hypertensive medications in combination with exercise to prevent age-related physical decline.

“Dr. Carter is a great scientist but even better person. She is wonderful to work with”, Buford said. “I really enjoy working with her because she always has a positive attitude and is very passionate about science.”

Carter and Buford’s NIH funded study, “Ace2 As A Novel Therapeutic To Preserve Physical Function In Late Life” is designed to assess the effects of components of the renin-angiotensin system in combination with exercise on physical function and metabolism in aged rats.

“In recent years a number of beneficial health effects have been ascribed to the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) that extend beyond lowering blood pressure, primarily mediated via the angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE2)/angiotensin (1-7) or Ang(1-7)/MAS receptor axis,” Carter said. “Moreover, once thought as merely a systemic effector, RAS components exist within tissues. The highest tissue concentrations of ACE2 mRNA are located in the gut making it an important target for altering RAS function. Indeed, genetically engineered recombinant probiotics are promising treatment strategies offering delivery of therapeutic proteins with precision. An Ang(1-7) secreting Lactobacillus paracasei (LP) or LP-A has been described for regulation of diabetes and hypertension; however, we are the first to our knowledge to propose this paradigm as it relates to aging. In this research, we provide proof of concept for using this technology in a well-characterized rodent model of aging: the Fisher344 x Brown Norway Rat (F344BN). Our primary findings suggest that LP-A increases circulating levels of Ang(1-7) both acutely and chronically (after 8 or 28 treatment days) when administered 3 or 7x/week over 4 weeks.”

Their future preclinical studies will explore the impact of this treatment on gut and other age-sensitive distal tissues such as brain and muscle. They will also combine this intervention with exercise to explore multi-modal approaches to prevent/reverse age-related physical and cognitive decline.

Carter also works with Lori McMahon, PhD, UAB Graduate School Dean and Senior Scientist at UCEM, in testing interventions in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). They also use fly models of aging and AD to study physical and cognitive decline to develop high-throughput assays to test interventions.

Her collaboration with biologist Steven Austad, PhD, Senior Scientist at UCEM, led her to explore resiliency in aging using mouse models of natural aging. They analyze longevity inducing interventions such as rapamycin and 17-alpha-estradiol to see if they can protect older mice from accelerated physical and cognitive decline when faced with stressors that are commonly experienced by older humans like anemia, anesthesia, and bacterial infection.

In addition to working on aging studies using rodent models, she specializes in designing and implementing online educational graduate programs in the field of gerontology by applying educational pedagogy that is specific for adult learners. Carter is currently leading an effort through the UAB Integrative Center for Aging Research - to bring back the Gerontology Education Program that offers multidisciplinary academic courses in Gerontology leading to an undergraduate minor and certificate and a graduate certificate in Gerontology. She was recently elected to the 2020 AGE Board of Directors. Carter is also an investigator at the UAB School of Medicine’s Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, and Scientist at the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging. Prior to joining UAB, she served as the program director for Education Programs at the Department of Aging & Geriatric Research in University of Florida.