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Research into early detection of frailty in older adults awarded €1.5m

A breakthrough research programme into early detection of frailty in older adults at School of Medicine, Trinity College has been awarded €1.5 million in funding as part of the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award programme.

Professor Roman Romero-Ortuno, Associate Professor in Medical Gerontology at Trinity and Consultant Physician in St. James’s Hospital, Dublin has been honoured with the prestigious award for his research programme,‘FRAILMatics’.

The importance of this research is borne out by Ireland’s ageing population. The proportion of the population in Ireland aged over 65 is set to increase from 1 in 8 in 2020, to 1 in 6 in 2030; and the number of people who are 85 or older will double, creating numerous challenges in clinical services and policy.

Frailty affects rising numbers of ageing adults and has significant adverse impacts on health outcomes, vulnerability and autonomy. Frailty places older people at higher risk of falls, cognitive decline, disability and makes them more likely to use primary and secondary healthcare. Outcomes from invasive medical or surgical interventions can be significantly worse than for non-frail adults.

The idea behind FRAILMatics is that if those who are in the early stages of frailty can be identified and undergo interventions to improve their resilience, then better outcomes will be achieved for the patients, treatment providers and the health system generally.

However, the signs of early frailty are often subtle and difficult to recognise. This innovative project will use the latest and most powerful supercomputers to analyse very large data sets of measurements of mild physiological stresses from participants across cardiovascular, movement and brain health systems. This may identify subtle, but reliable physiological signals that indicate vulnerability. The study could pave the way towards the development of medical devices that can help clinicians identify frailty at an early stage. Ideally, such new tools would be usable by non-experts, so the benefits are more widespread, as the number of specialist geriatric teams is still limited.

The study will source its population and clinical cohorts from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) and Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing MISA (MISA), respectively. TILDA is a large-scale, nationally representative, longitudinal study on ageing in Ireland, led by the Discipline of Medical Gerotology and lead TILDA PI, Professor Rose Anne Kenny. TILDA is in its 11th year of data collection, and its overarching aim is to make Ireland the best place in the world to grow old. FRAILMatics has expert support from TILDA’s Dr Belinda Hernández, Trinity’s ADAPT Centre led by Professor Vincent Wade, and Professor Richard Reilly’s Clinical Neural Engineering Lab. FRAILMatics’ new SFI-funded high performance computing infrastructure is managed by Trinity Research IT.

Speaking of his award, Professor Romero-Ortuno said:

I am delighted to have received this SFI Future Research Leaders award. This makes me immensely proud as an academic geriatrician and I thank SFI for recognising the crucial importance of investment in interdisciplinary Ageing Research. As a clinician scientist, this award will enable me to build the human and computational capability to investigate a highly complex issue that is of immense importance to our ageing society. The research will create opportunities across the sciences and business landscapes.

Commenting on the importance of Professor Romero-Ortuno’s award, Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast said:

The highly competitive award programme acknowledges and recognises outstanding researchers and Roman is a deserving awardee. He represents a new generation of future research leaders whose work has the potential for positive impact, in particular for our older population and those working in the area of gerontology.

Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Chair of Medical Gerontology at Trinity, Principal Investigator of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing and Director of the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing at St James’s Hospital, said:

Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital have been enormously fortunate to recruit Roman from Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Cambridge. FRAILMatics provides a natural fit with the strategic Ageing Research priorities in Trinity, Ireland and internationally, and has the potential to become a challenge-based disruptive technology initiative.

Professor Louise Gallagher, Director of Research at Trinity’s School of Medicine, said:

We are immensely proud that Professor Romero-Ortuno has been honoured by President Higgins with this award, and that he has chosen to continue his pioneering research with us. Our team at Trinity continues to outpunch its weight in terms of winning major research awards. Ageing is one of the main Research Themes in Trinity College Dublin. In addition, this research spans two other main School of Medicine research themes – Neuroscience and Population Health – alongside our other themes of Cancer, Genetics, Immunology and Infection and Molecular Medicine.

FRAILMatics is now recruiting two senior Post-doctoral researchers and two PhD students to start in September 2020. The closing date for applications is April 17th, 2020. Further information can be found on https://tilda.tcd.ie/frailmatics