Monday 21 October 2013

Meeting Report: NIHR BRC Ageing Research

NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre
Frontiers of Ageing Research
St James’ Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
Thursday 17th October 2013

Despite the best efforts of the St James’ Park staff, this one day meeting sharing the latest developments in ageing research was well received by researchers and members of the public alike.
The event began with a presentation by Prof Patrick Chinnery describing the mission and rationale behind the Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) here in Newcastle.  

He traced the origins back to the Cooksey Report in 2006 and the establishment of NIHR as the R&D wing of the NHS headed by Professor Dame Sally Davies – herself a recent recipient of an honorary degree from Newcastle University. 

Prof Chinnery outlined the predicted demographic changes expected in the UK and the compelling  scientific and economic reasons underlying the drive toward personalized medicine and targeted patient care.  He described the critical importance of the patient in ensuring that resources were directed to solving problems that matter to patients. 

Hence the meeting.   

In addition he described how in the first twelve months alone the BRC had supported projects generating 145 scientific papers and attracting more than £12m in additional funding. 

Professor David Burn followed with a worked example describing the foundation of the Biomedical Research Unit in dementia with Lewy bodies.  He described the team’s drive to early diagnosis with identification, stratification and intervention targeted at those patients most likely to benefit from clinical interventions.

This session was then followed by a lively Q&A session with general discussion ranging from diabetes and ageing through to better tools to inform decision making for patients diagnosed with cancer.

The second session opened with a presentation by Dr Chris Morris outlining the work of the Newcastle Brain Bank.  He outlined expected changes in the prevalence of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease given the expected demographic changes in the next ten years.
Dr Morris described the pioneering work arising from the foundation of the Brain Bank.  The work of Martin Roth, Bernard Tomlinson, Gary Blessed and David Kay.  He described the origins of the “cholinergic hypothesis’.  Based on the work of Newcastle researchers Elaine and Robert Perry and later work by Jim Edwardson and Ian McKeith this forms the basis of many current therapeutic interventions.  Dr Morris closed by stressing the importance of brain donorship in studying diseases of the ageing brain.

Chris was followed by Professor Mike Trenell.  Mike described data providing compelling evidence for the importance of cardio-respiratory fitness in older age.  Staying fit not only increases expected lifespan, but it improves our quality of life in old age.  He highlighted the important social dimension to staying fit.  Staying fit allows us to do the things we value doing for longer.

This second session was followed by an even more lively general Q&A session with topics discussed as diverse as fatigue and the prospect of a ‘cure’ for Alzheimer’s disease.  Questions ranged from how to become a brain donor, through the mechanism by which research is translated into the GP clinic, to the educational needs of the next generation.

After lunch, the meeting broke into three separate working groups to discuss three themes – the Ageing Brain, the Ageing Body and Ageing Limbs.

The focus of the Ageing Limbs meeting was arthritis.  Dr Louise Reynard broke the ice with a short presentation on research into osteoarthritis.  She described the socio-economic rationale behind targeting osteoarthritis.  With £3.5bn lost annually in working days and an expected 17m sufferers by 2030 this is a key target for intervention by the Newcastle BRC.  Dr Rachel Harry stepped in to describe the similarities and key differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 
Louise and Rachel were joined by clinical researcher Dr Nishanthi Thalayasingam for the panel discussion. 
In a wide-ranging discussion members of the public were able to ask about subjects as diverse as pain management in arthritis, alternative medicines and holistic methods.  The team also fielded technical questions on palindromic rheumatoid arthritis, Paget’s disease and synovial fluid.  And finally, Dr Dennis Lendrem described the work of the Early Arthritis Clinic at the Freeman Hospital and the new Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre at the RVI.

Despite technical issues at the beginning of the meeting everyone – researchers and members of the public alike – welcomed this opportunity to get together and learn more about the research we are doing in Newcastle and the issues and concerns of patients here in the NE.  

The meeting generated more questions than it did answers but these questions will be fed back to research staff shaping future research at the Newcastle BRC.

Dr Louise Reynard outlines risk factors in osteoarthritis.

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