Ageing, sarcopenia and multimorbidity
By 2040, one in seven of us will be aged 75 or over. An ageing UK population with increasingly complex needs is putting ever more pressure on the NHS and social care system.
Yet, the Ageing Report from a House of Lords Inquiry in 2021 noted that capacity for translational age research is limited.
Building on our internationally-recognised research on ageing, our vision is to address this gap and to enable a step-change in translational ageing research that will deliver significant health benefits for older people.
There is a huge opportunity to better use what is known about the fundamental ageing process in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of common ageing syndromes such as sarcopenia and multimorbidity (also known as multiple long-term conditions).
What we cover in this theme
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass and function as we age. It can lead to serious health issues; increasing disability, illness and the need for increased health and social care. At the NIHR Newcastle BRC, we consider sarcopenia to be an invaluable area of study to improve health and care outcomes as we age. To do this, we fund a range of studies looking at the biological changes in muscle that happen with age such as the MASS_Lifecourse study.
Our research activity around sarcopenia benefits from the expertise in our Neuromuscular theme, which has a track record of turning laboratory-based research into improvements in the treatments of muscle loss.
We also hosted the inaugural International Sarcopenia Translational Research Conference in 2021, which will help to accelerate research in this area. We also work to turn laboratory discoveries into treatments for frailty, such as the MET-PREVENT study; a trial to examine whether metformin (a medicine used to treat type II diabetes) can prevent progression of sarcopenia or frailty.
The term ‘multiple long-term conditions’ (MLTC) refers to the co-existence of two or more chronic conditions (physical or mental) in a person.
There are an estimated 14 million people in England living with MLTC. This number is growing, in line with our ageing population making MLTC one of the biggest challenges currently facing the UK healthcare system.
At the NIHR Newcastle BRC, our research across ageing and long-term conditions examines the underlying causes of conditions, including for those that can appear to be unrelated to each other, or those that require different management approaches. We seek to understand more about the basic biology of ageing, helping us to learn more about the underlying causes of multiple conditions. This knowledge can help us to develop potential interventions or identify diseases with the same underlying mechanisms.
Trials for older people
Our work in the area of trials in older people is focussed on increasing the inclusion of older participants who are vastly underrepresented in current scientific studies. Without including older people, studies can make assumptions, which can not only lead to ineffective treatments, but could potentially put people at risk of serious harm.
How we carry out research
Professor Avan Sayer, the NIHR Newcastle BRC Director, leads this theme. Professor Sayer is internationally recognised for her research in ageing, sarcopenia and multimorbidity.
We draw on the experimental medicine expertise in our research themes, as well as building on Newcastle’s international reputation for basic science, epidemiological and clinical ageing research.
This is allowing us to deliver a step change in our capacity to translate the understanding of biological ageing into advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the ageing syndromes of sarcopenia, frailty and multimorbidity.
We bring together nationally-renowned academic clinicians and scientists with broad expertise, to carry out multi-disciplinary ageing research, using a life-course approach to understand all factors related to age-related health.
Our work in ageing examines:
- the basic science behind sarcopenia and frailty, to better understand the biological factors involved in ageing
- life course impacts on ageing, such as nutritional epidemiology research, and ways to intervene earlier and prevent the onset of age-related physical decline and poor health
- the impact of living with multiple long-term conditions (multimorbidity) on both the individual, but also on the health and social care system
- how to increase participation of older people in trials to better represent those who stand to benefit from our translational research in this area
Who we work with
Our ageing, sarcopenia and multimorbidity theme draws on a long history of outstanding ageing research and patient care in the North East of England.
This theme links with Newcastle University’s AGE Research Group which delivers much of the research.
Across the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Ageing theme links with the NIHR Schools for Public Health Research and Primary Care Research, both of which have an emphasis on ageing and life course development, and have their base here in Newcastle.
We link with the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration North East and North Cumbria, and make further links with the wider key stakeholders in this area, through the Academic Health Science Centre, a multi-partner initiative focussing on health inequalities in the region.