Centre for In Vivo Imaging

Staff Profiles

Professor Avan Sayer

Director, NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre & Professor of Geriatric Medicine


Avan Aihie Sayer is William Leech Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Honorary Consultant Geriatrician, NIHR Senior Investigator, and Director of the National Institute of Health Research Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre - a partnership between Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cumbria Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, and the Faculty of Medical Sciences Newcastle University.

Under her leadership, the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) was awarded £16.2M in 2017 and £23.9M in the 2022 competition. The remit is of improving lives through world-leading research in ageing and multiple long-term conditions and it remains the only BRC in the country to prioritise research relevant to older people. It is proving key to building UK translational ageing research capacity involving a pipeline from discovery science through to first in man studies, novel clinical trials, research linked to clinical practice, and benefit to patients through better healthcare.

Avan has international recognition in the field of Geriatrics and Gerontology for her research on ageing, sarcopenia and multiple long-term conditions (multimorbidity). She leads an interdisciplinary ageing research group, the AGE Research Group, established in 2016 to focus on these areas. The group takes a life course approach to translating research findings into advances in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of ill health in later life. AGE is central to delivery of the newly awarded BRC ageing, sarcopenia and multimorbidity theme.


She champions team science and capacity building in academic geriatric medicine/interdisciplinary gerontology and has always chosen to lead by example – encouraging, supporting and mentoring the next generation of researchers from a wide range of backgrounds. The principles of equality, diversity and inclusion underpin everything she does. Avan collaborates widely and was a founder member of the HALCyon (Healthy Ageing across the Life Course) network of UK birth and ageing cohorts. In 2022 she became a member of the Global Leadership Initiative in Sarcopenia (GLIS).


Harnessing the expertise of patients and public is a key component of all her research and works closely with members of VOICE (Valuing Our Intellectual Capital and Experience) which is a national and international citizens network based in Newcastle. She was also involved in the James Lind Alliance (JLA) Multiple Conditions in Life Priority Setting Partnership that identified psychosocial factors as an important but overlooked area for research. The NIHR Newcastle BRC and AGE both have flourishing programmes of PPIE activity.


She was appointed to the NIHR Multimorbidity Oversight Group in 2020. She previously held the position of Deputy Chair of the BRC Directors Forum and sat on NIHR Strategy Board. She was a member of MRC Population and Systems Medicine Board 2020 – 2022 and recently demitted as Co-Chair of the British Geriatrics Society Special Interest Group on Sarcopenia and Frailty Research. She was a member of the European Geriatric Medicine Society Academic Board for 8 years until 2021. Avan was invited to give oral evidence at the 2019 House of Lords Inquiry on Ageing and contributed to its influential report.


She became co-chair of the NIHR Multiple Long-Term Conditions Collaboration Development Advisory Group in 2021 and is now co-chair of the first Cross-NIHR Collaboration (CNC) awarded £1.95M by the Department of Health and Social Care over 5 years from December 2022 as part of the NIHR Strategic Framework for Multiple Long-Term Conditions (Multimorbidity) Research.


Ageing, sarcopenia and multiple long-term conditions (multimorbidity)

The age-related loss of skeletal muscle strength and mass is known as sarcopenia and is associated with profound adverse consequences for health including multimorbidity (two or more long-term conditions), frailty and mortality. My research focuses on the life course causes, consequences and treatment of this loss of skeletal muscle. It exploits the wealth of unique data available in UK ageing and birth cohorts and includes first in world muscle biopsy studies within this context allowing investigation of cellular and molecular mechanisms in skeletal muscle in relation to detailed phenotypic characterisation of participants.

A novel discovery was the association between low birth weight and sarcopenia, suggesting that early influences were having lifelong effects on skeletal muscle. This has led to progress in several areas of experimental ageing medicine including aetiology in terms of understanding mechanisms across the life course; prediction leading to consideration of earlier identification of individuals at risk; prevention with investigation of the role of implementing strategies earlier in life; and intervention in terms of developing novel agents.

Sarcopenia can also occur earlier in life particularly in the context of mid-life multimorbidity and the MRC/NIHR funded 4 year programme of research ADMISSION focuses on multiple long-term conditions in hospital: from burden and inequalities to care pathways and underlying mechanisms. This is a UK wide interdisciplinary collaborative involving 6 partners (Newcastle University, Newcastle Hospitals, University of Birmingham, Manchester Metropolitan University, UCL and the University of Dundee with a focus on taking data driven approaches harnessing routine health data.

This research is being taken forward by the interdisciplinary AGE Research Group which has strong links to the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre Ageing Sarcopenia and Multimorbidity research theme. The researchers span a range of disciplines including academic geriatric medicine, epidemiology, trials, nutrition, exercise physiology, neurophysiology, computing science, imaging and biomedical research. The vision is improving lives through world-class research in ageing and multiple long-term conditions. The group takes a life course approach with translation of research findings into new approaches to diagnosis, treatment and prevention to address pressing patient need.


I lecture on the MBBS and Biomedical Sciences undergraduate degree courses as well as more widely and enjoy supervising undergraduate and postgraduate students in research projects and higher degrees.