Friday 23 March 2018

Increasing translational research capacity for older people: setting the scene at a BRC workshop

This month, the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) held its inaugural workshop on increasing capacity across the translational health research pathway for older people.

The event was the first of its kind, and responded to the need to build not only capacity but also capability for translational ageing research relevant to the needs of older people. This is a particular focus of the Newcastle BRC because of its remit to harness experimental medicine expertise to advance the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of ageing syndromes such as sarcopenia, frailty and multimorbidity.

This first workshop involved academic geriatricians from across the country and provided the opportunity to hear about latest study findings. There was also discussion on how to build an organised and proactive community of translational ageing researchers with a much higher national profile. Professor Helen Roberts, lead for the Clinical Research Network Ageing Speciality Group, described the support available for research delivery, and a recurring theme of the workshop was the opportunity for collaboration across centres making use of established NIHR infrastructure.

Professor Avan Sayer, Director of the NIHR Newcastle BRC commented: “The breadth and depth of excellence across the translational ageing research pathway presented at this workshop were striking and need to be made more visible and accessible particularly to patients and the public as well as to NIHR and other funders.”

Closing the gap in translational research

Gaps in translational research capacity were also identified. For example, despite older people being the major users of healthcare, most clinical trials enrol younger people with single diseases. Evidence from clinical trials is therefore not relevant enough to the needs of older people or health services. A growth area for the future will therefore be designing and delivering clinical trials to fit the needs of older people. In response to this, the Newcastle BRC has recently appointed a dedicated Professor of Trials for Older People; Professor Miles Witham will develop a programme of work to improve design and recruitment to trials for older people, and to build expertise to perform such trials across the UK with a particular focus on sarcopenia.

Professor Miles Witham commented: “There is a real need to increase the number of clinical trials focused on conditions affecting older people, and a need to recruit a greater number of older people into these trials. This is the only way that we can decide what treatment and preventive strategies really work in later life.”