The UK has seen dramatic gains in life expectancy, with the number of people aged 85 or above predicted to increase from 1.7 to 3.7 million over the next 20 years.
While longer life expectancy may bring many opportunities, it also presents challenges at the individual and societal level. Research has found that ageing on its own does not bring increased healthcare costs in the UK, but rather it is factors such as an increasing number of health conditions and age-related impairments, NIHR Alert (2017). This challenge is even starker in the North East, which has a diverse population living with the highest rates in England of poverty, unemployment, poor health and early death.
How we carry out ageing syndromes research
Led by the NIHR Newcastle BRC Director, Professor Avan Sayer, who has international recognition for her research on the role of skeletal muscle in ageing, health and disease, we draw on the experimental medicine expertise in our five 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.
Bringing together nationally renowned academic clinicians and scientists with broad expertise, we carry out multi-disciplinary ageing research, using a life-course approach to understand all factors related to age-related health. See a full list of our BRC-funded Ageing Syndromes projects here
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
Sitting at the heart of the partnership between Newcastle Hospitals and Newcastle University, our Ageing Syndromes theme also draws on a long history of outstanding ageing research and patient care in the North East of England. The theme makes links with Newcastle University’s AGE Research Group which delivers much of the research. Across the National Institute for Health Research, the Ageing Syndromes 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 most recent award; the Academic Health Science Centre; a multi-partner initiative focussing on health inequalities in the region.
What we cover in this theme
Sarcopenia and frailty
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 are also hosting 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.
Multimorbidity is 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. More on multimorbidity with the NIHR Newcastle BRC
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.
Watch Professor Miles Witham, Deputy Lead for the Ageing Syndromes theme, discuss the importance of including older people in clinical trials related to ageing research.