Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine are part of the newly established Precision Aging Network, which will focus on how and why individuals experience aging differently. Led by the University of Arizona, the network was established through a five-year, $60 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The multisite study will recruit 275,000 individuals over the age of 60 and collect genome, DNA, biomarkers and other data from them.
Under the leadership of Dr. Bijan Najafi, professor and director of clinical research in the division of vascular surgery in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor, the Baylor team will focus developing a better understanding of the link between mobility and cognitive brain aging using wearable technology to collect information about sleep, stress and physical activity. They also will collect data on cognitive frailty.
“There is increased cognitive decline in the aging population, and we don’t have high-quality data to help us better understand this process of developing Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline or brain aging,” Najafi said. “Much of the research we have in this area starts when the patient already has some complaint about cognitive decline, when it’s too late to study the full process.”
Previous research has shown that cognitive frailty is a strong predictor of further cognitive decline over time and that changes in mobility can be linked to cognitive function changes, Najafi said.
Volunteers will be asked to wear a wristwatch for one week once a year for the next five years so researchers can measure their physical activity, sleep and stress levels. This will provide a general picture about the mobility performance of the individual. They also will participate in a telemedicine visit where they will be asked to perform a 20-second repetitive elbow flexion test with and without cognitive distraction to help quantify their motor capacity and level of frailty.
Researchers will then link this data to the other data being collected on the volunteers through other centers to identify markers that will ultimately help define brain aging.
“We hope to be able to identify who may have accelerated brain aging and who may not,” Najafi said. “If we are able to capture the early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, it could help us target these individuals for early intervention that can delay the process of brain aging or even better track the outcomes of medication that is designed to delay some of the brain aging.”
“When we connect different pieces of the puzzle, we can make an impact in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline in the aging population,” Najafi said.