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New UB, SUNY Partnership on Aging to Research Frailty, Dementia

Bruce R. Troen, MD

Bruce R. Troen, MD

Published September 4, 2014

Geriatrics researchers at the University at Buffalo and across New York State have joined forces to investigate the connection between frailty and dementia.

“Aging is the blockbuster issue of the 21st century. There aren’t enough (geriatric practitioners and researchers) to go around. It’s a national crisis in the making.”
Bruce R. Troen, MD
Chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine

Members of the SUNY Network Aging Partnership — or SNAP — also will train up-and-coming medical scientists in high-demand research on aging.

Statewide Infrastructure for Aging Research

The partnership’s collaborative research will focus on “how to best create the circumstances for aging successfully — something we all want to do,” says Bruce R. Troen, MD, professor of medicine and chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine.

Troen is a co-investigator with SNAP, possibly the first statewide consortium and framework for aging research.

“I don’t know of any other state that has developed this kind of infrastructure,” says Troen, a practicing geriatrician and a molecular biologist who has studied vitamin D and osteoporosis.

Funded with a $147,000 SUNY Networks of Excellence grant, the partnership includes all four State University of New York medical schools.

Learning From Diverse Database

SNAP studies will enroll older adults from all corners of New York.

A key aim is to create the first database of individuals with frailty and dementia, drawing from the state’s diverse population.

Troen and his colleagues also will develop and compare tools to assess frailty risk factors and determine how they correlate with cognitive assessments encompassing neurological, psychiatric and behavioral components.

The researchers also seek to identify new biomarkers for both frailty and dementia, such as C-reactive protein. Certain vitamin D deficiencies have already been found to occur in both conditions.

Troen is especially interested in predicting frailty before it occurs, quantifying it and potentially intervening to prevent or delay functional decline and maintain independence.

High-Demand Careers for Med Students, Fellows

While the number of older Americans will nearly double by 2030, the lack of geriatric health care providers will only worsen, according to the Institute of Medicine. The gaps in geriatric research are equally huge, Troen says.

“Aging is the blockbuster issue of the 21st century. There aren’t enough (geriatric practitioners and researchers) to go around. It’s a national crisis in the making.”

In response, SNAP will work to recruit, train and mentor medical students and fellows for careers in the field of aging.

Exploring Link Between Frailty, Cognitive Deficit

The partnership’s multidisciplinary efforts will help researchers understand what underlies frailty and mild cognitive impairment, conditions with overlapping risks.

This is a largely unexplored area, Troen notes.

While there’s growing consensus that frailty is at the core of geriatrics and is associated with higher rates of cognitive deficit, very little research has investigated how the two conditions may be related, he says.

“Even as we see more frailty in our aging patients, the definition of the condition itself has not been well established,” Troen adds. Some definitions are more biological, others are more physical, and some combine physical, biological, psychological and social risk factors.

Seeking National Center Designation

SNAP’s ultimate goal is to develop the expertise that will attract a national research center designation.

The program will not only coordinate research efforts but facilitate competition for scientific funding and accelerate publication of research.

UB co-investigators are:

  • Kinga Szigeti, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center
  • Kenneth L. Seldeen, PhD, postdoctoral associate and clinical instructor of medicine in the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine
  • Jihnhee Yu, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Health Professions

Sharon A. Brangman, MD, professor of medicine and chief of geriatric medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University, is lead investigator.

Other co-investigators come from the SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Stony Brook University School of Medicine.