Dr. Robert “Trey” Coker inducted into Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame to honor his world-class research and business ventures
In 2011, Dr. Robert “Trey” Coker suffered a debilitating ATV accident that fractured three vertebrae and left him bedridden for about a month. Although he soon recovered, his muscles had atrophied resulting in a loss of physical function. The unanticipated setback inspired him to think what could be done to prevent physical decline in older adults.
Now, Coker’s company, Essential Blends, LLC, is testing their nutritional products that prevent muscle loss without gaining fat. Supported by millions of dollars in competitive Federal research grants to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Essential Blends, LLC, he and his partners have developed three condition-specific nutritional formulas for heart failure, muscle atrophy or sarcopenia and substance abuse. Dr. Coker’s company received the first Small Business Innovations in Research grant from the National Institutes of Health with a subaward to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and has filed two patent applications for their products.
The Alaska State Committee on Research selected Dr. Coker as an inductee to the Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame class of 2020. This recognition honors his world-class research and business venture, that was awarded the only small business in Alaska to receive a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer grant since 2014. Essential Blend LLC’s nutritional products are meal replacements that provide free form, vegan-sourced amino acids that protect muscle during weight loss even in the elderly. The patented amino acid profile helps the body maintain all tissue and organ proteins.
“When an older person tries to eat enough protein to maintain their muscle, they just have to consume way more calories,” said Dr. Coker. “They end up consuming more calories than they need to, because almost all protein sources include carbohydrate and/or fat - even those that don’t contain excess amounts of non-essential amino acids. Essential Blend’s nutritional formulas isolated these essential amino acids to maintain skeletal muscle, mitochondrial protein and/or heart function.”
As part of a ~$11.8 M grant, Dr. Coker will now lead the first NIH-sponsored clinical trial in the geriatric population at UAF. The clinical trials begin February 2020.
Dr. Coker received his doctorate degree in exercise science from the University of Mississippi and completed research fellowships at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center in Denmark. He held a Tenured faculty appointment in the Department of Geriatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for over a decade. In 2013, he and his wife Sheri were ready for a new challenge. He joined UAF’s Department of Biology and Wildlife and the Institute of Arctic Biology. His research interests are focused on clinical nutrition, physical activity and cold exposure, and health and longevity throughout an individual’s lifespan.
Dr. Coker is also a certified instructor for “Hacking for Defense.” In summer 2019, he led UAF’s participation in the program solves real world problems that threaten or complicate our national security. Over an accelerated pace of six weeks, UAF students with backgrounds in communication, homeland security and engineering focused on the problems of unmanned, undersea vehicles. The class discovered that marine scientists gathering data using these devices were limited in their capacity to acquire data due to lack of energy. The students developed a data information worksheet that linked rural coastal villages to state-of-the-art wave energy devices. The course will be offered again in the Spring of 2021 through the School of Management at UAF.