BUFFALO, N.Y. – What is the relationship between frailty
and dementia? Many studies acknowledge that frailty and dementia
often coexist, but little research has been done on why that is the
Bruce R. Troen, MD, professor of medicine and chief of the
Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the University at
Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is working with
colleagues at the other State University of New York medical
schools to change that.
Troen is a co-investigator on the SUNY Network Aging Partnership
(SNAP): Investigating Frailty and Enhancing Lifespan Across the
Health Spectrum. Sharon A. Brangman, MD, professor of medicine and
division chief, Geriatric Medicine, at SUNY Upstate Medical
University, is lead investigator.
Part of the SUNY Networks of Excellence program, the goal of the
$147,000 grant is to establish a statewide infrastructure for
strong interdisciplinary research on aging. SNAP will work to
coordinate research across SUNY's four medical universities to
facilitate competition for scientific funding, accelerate
publication of research and recruit and mentor trainees.
The ultimate goal is to develop the expertise that will attract
a national research center designation.
Troen and his colleagues will develop and compare tools to
assess frailty risk factors and determine how they correlate with
cognitive assessments. The approach will be multidisciplinary,
ranging from the identification of biomarkers to assessments that
are neurological, psychiatric and behavioral. The grant also will
include the training of medical students and fellows.
“Aging is the blockbuster issue of the 21st
century,” says Troen. Yet in 2008, the Institute of Medicine
reported that while the population of older adults in the U.S. will
nearly double by 2030, the lack of geriatric health care providers
who can care for them will only worsen.
“There aren’t enough of us to go around,” says
Troen. “It’s a national crisis in the
The gaps in geriatric research are equally huge, Troen says. For
example, while there is growing consensus in the field that frailty
is at the core of geriatrics, and that frailty is associated with
higher rates of cognitive deficit, very little research has
explored how the two conditions may be related.
“Even as we see more frailty in our aging patients, the
definition of the condition itself has not been well
established,” says Troen. Some definitions are more
biological, others are more physical and some combine physical,
biological, psychological and social risk factors, he says.
The goal of SNAP, he says, is to address these and other gaps in
understanding the connections between frailty and dementia that
will result in maximizing patient outcomes and enhancing
patients’ quality of life.
A key aim of the project is to develop a unique database on
frailty and dementia across the state’s diverse populations.
That effort, Troen says, will be enhanced by the diverse
populations served by the four SUNY medical schools at UB, SUNY
Upstate Medical School, SUNY Downstate Medical School and Stony
“We want to understand what underlies frailty and mild
cognitive impairment,” says Troen. “The risks
Troen is especially interested in predicting frailty before it
occurs, quantifying it and then intervening with medications where
His background as both a molecular biologist who has studied
vitamin D and osteoporosis, and a geriatrician who works to help
improve his patients’ quality of life, has prepared him well
for this project.
Some of the work will involve identifying biomarkers found in
both frailty and dementia, such as C-reactive protein. Certain
vitamin D deficiencies also are found in both conditions, Troen
Troen was recruited to the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical
Sciences from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in
2013. He says he doesn’t know of any other state that has
developed a statewide infrastructure for research on aging.
“We all want to age successfully,” concludes Troen.
“This grant is focused on how best to create the
circumstances where that can happen.”
As the grant gets underway, UB and the other SUNY centers will
be enrolling patients. Patients interested in enrolling should
contact the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at UB at
(716) 888-4865 or SNAPStudy@buffalo.edu.
Other co-investigators on SNAP are Carl Cohen, MD, SUNY
Distinguished Service Professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center,
and Suzanne Fields, MD, professor of clinical medicine and chief,
Division of General, Geriatric and Hospital Medicine, at Stony
Brook University School of Medicine.
The SUNY Networks of Excellence are part of Gov. Cuomo’s
Innovation Agenda that includes START-UP NY, incubator “Hot
Spots,” the New York State Venture Capital Fund and the NYS
Innovation Network to foster entrepreneurialism and economic growth
through public-private partnerships and give researchers the tools
they need to bring their ideas to market.