Centre for In Vivo Imaging

Staff Profiles

Professor Avan Sayer

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

Background

Avan Aihie Sayer is William Leech Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the Translational and Clinical Research Institute, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University and an Honorary Consultant Geriatrician at Newcastle Hospitals. She is Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) where the research vison is to transform lives through world-class research in ageing and multiple long-term conditions. She was appointed an NIHR Senior Investigator in 2018.

Avan is internationally renowned in the field of Geriatric Medicine for her research on sarcopenia, frailty and multimorbidity (two or more long-term health conditions). With an ageing UK population, addressing these common ageing syndromes is core business for the NHS yet the need for translational research focused on older people is little recognised. Her goal is taking findings from the epidemiology and biology of ageing through to innovative experimental ageing medicine studies involving lifestyle as well as drug interventions, and on to trials to advance diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies. Capacity building in this area of patient need is both a passion and a priority.

Since moving to Newcastle in 2016, Avan has established the interdisciplinary AGE Research Group which includes a growing number of academic clinicians and researchers from a wide range of disciplines as well as involvement of members of the public from diverse backgrounds. She co-leads the Faculty of Medical Sciences Long-Term Conditions and Multimorbidity Research Theme. She led the successful Newcastle Hospitals/Newcastle University Partnership bid for the NIHR Newcastle BRC in the 2017 NIHR BRC competition and in 2021 became Principal Investigator of the MRC/NIHR funded collaborative research programme ADMISSION involving six partners from across the UK that aims to transform understanding of multimorbidity in hospital.

Avan was invited to give oral evidence at the 2019 House of Lords Inquiry on Ageing and contributed to its influential report. She was appointed to the MRC Population and Systems Medicine Board and the NIHR Multimorbidity Oversight Group in 2020. She sits on the Academic Board of the European Geriatric Medicine Society, is Co-Chair of the British Geriatrics Society Special Interest Group on Sarcopenia and Frailty Research and is recent past Secretary to the UK Association of Academic Geriatric Medicine. She was an Associate Editor at Age and Ageing until 2019.

Research

Ageing, sarcopenia and 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 a new MRC/NIHR 4 year programme of research ADMISSION will focus 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 BRC cross-cutting theme in Ageing Syndromes.  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.


Teaching

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.

 

Publications