California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute helps lead national partnership to provide data-driven diagnostic criteria for sarcopenia, a debilitating condition in older adults

California Pacific CURRENTS: The online journal of CPMC Research Institute

New collaborative research published by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health may help identify at-risk individuals, help guide treatment decisions, and prevent complications from age-related loss of muscle mass

April 15, 2014 (San Francisco, CA)

Millions of older adults in the United States are at risk of sarcopenia—age-related low muscle mass and weakness accompanied by reduced physical functioning—putting them at increased likelihood of falls and disabilities, hospitalization or placement in long-term care facilities.   

For the first time, new research involving scientists at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute (CPMCRI) provides specific characterizations of how lean muscle mass and low strength relate to impaired mobility, the first step in helping define possible diagnostic criteria for sarcopenia.

The findings were published online today in a series of six featured articles in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences and arise from studies of over 26,000 participants, as derived from the work of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) Biomarkers Consortium Sarcopenia Project.

“Our research addresses a critical, unmet medical need, and creates a data-driven definition of sarcopenia. This will facilitate further research that may lead to new drug development and clinical initiatives in improving the health of older adults,” said Peggy Cawthon (PhD), Associate Scientist at CPMCRI and the San Francisco Coordinating Center (SFCC), and a co-author of the studies. “That these recommendations highlight the potential clinical importance of sarcopenia, and serve as the first step in developing a diagnosis for this condition.”

To establish the list of criteria, the researchers assessed data from nine sets of intervention and observational studies of older community-dwelling adults. Median age of women was 78.6 years and of men, 75.2 years. Pooled studies included large CPMCRI and SFCC-led trials including the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study; the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study (MrOS); and the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (SOF), in addition to other national sets of clinical trials.

The researchers assessed the association between body mass index (BMI, a weight-to-height ratio), appendicular lean mass (the sum of lean mass in the arms and legs), grip strength, and gait speed. Low lean mass was defined as the ratio of muscle mass to BMI: in men, <0.789 and in women, <0.512, because these values best discriminated the presence of weakness.

In addition to decreased muscle strength, possible effects of sarcopenia include reduced mobility, frailty, osteoporosis, falls and fractures, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, loss of physical function, and loss of independence. By 2050, the number of adults in the United States over 65 years of age is expected to double, adding potentially billions of healthcare costs associated with age-related illnesses, disabilities and hospitalizations.

Launched in 2010, the FNIH (a public-private partnership for research funding) Sarcopenia Project involves the NIH’s National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and national academic institutions including CPMCRI.

This research was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the Food and Drug Administration, and through grants from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, made possible by funding from Abbott Nutrition, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Merck, Novartis, and The Dairy Research Institute.