A new research programme - FRAILMatics - has being launched at the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing (MISA) by researchers at Trinity College, with funding from Science Foundation Ireland.

Frailty is related to the ageing process, and can affect up to one third of older adults in Ireland. It describes how our bodies gradually lose their in-built reserves, leaving us vulnerable to dramatic, sudden changes in health triggered by seemingly small events such as a minor infection or a change in medication or environment. Those affected are at a higher risk of adverse health outcomes such as falls, disability, admission to hospital, or the need for long-term care.

Professor Roman Romero-Ortuno, Principal Investigator, FRAILMatics, explains: “Populations are ageing, but not all individuals age in the same way. During a standard medical consultation, an older adult sitting in a chair could seem “well”, but problems may become more apparent during real-life situations that place sudden demands on body and brain. This difficulty adapting to stressors is what we call frailty, and can affect up to a third of older adults who otherwise live independently. Since frailty can be improved, early detection is crucial. Through the study of large population-based and clinical datasets, FRAILMatics is discovering new objective signals of frailty that could translate into the next generation of transdisciplinary diagnostics for ageing adults.”  

FRAILMatics will develop more accurate frailty tools that - without expert input - automatically identify subtle dysregulated responses to stressors across physiological systems.  This exciting new study is being achieved by developing data-driven models and measures using data from TILDA, The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing at Trinity College.

These models and measures are also being tested and validated in smaller clinical cohorts recruited from ambulatory care clinics at the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing (MISA) in St James’s Hospital, Dublin.

This FRAILMatics research will pave the way towards a new generation of non-invasive medical devices that could be able to detect early frailty and be usable by non-specialists in routine clinical care, especially prior to consideration of invasive interventions (for example, planned surgery).

As part of the project and to facilitate the large data-driven approaches being employed, a high-performance computing system (HPC) was required. The programme recently received an SFI-granted infrastructure budget of circa €250,000 to purchase the new HPC system. The HPC system hosted by Research IT in Trinity  has been named 'Tinney' in honour of Sheila Christina Tinney, the first Irish-born and -raised woman to receive a doctorate in the mathematical sciences (1941, University of Edinburgh).

FRAILMatics brings together a number of STEAM areas and disciplines across Trinity, alongside collaborators from the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and the University of Palermo in Italy.

Speaking on the special STEAM creative collaboration to mark this launch, Professor Romero-Ortuno said: “We created “Dancing with atoms” to celebrate the new FRAILMatics-enabled high-performance computing cluster in Trinity, which we named after the first Irish woman to obtain a PhD in Mathematical sciences. Before the era of supercomputers, Sheila Tinney wrote mathematical formulae that predicted the stability of crystal lattices. In a lattice, all atoms are interconnected, like the organs in the human body. In the cluster-made visualization, we see how a crystal lattice vibrates to the music of her son Hugh, reminding us how our organs work together to adapt to real-life stressors. In turn, we are reminded of the importance of bringing all the STEAM elements together for the advancement of medical science.”

This evening’s launch will close with a very special piano recital from Professor Hugh Tinney, RIAM, to showcase the collaboration, culminating in a short, dynamic visualisation titled: Dancing with Atoms: A Tribute to Sheila Tinney, which celebrates Hugh’s mum Sheila.

Speaking at the launch event, Prof Philip Nolan, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland, said: “I congratulate Prof Roman Romero-Ortuno and the team involved in this important research.  SFI are pleased to support this research, as supporting our aging population to live full and engaged lives is a growing responsibility and challenge, not only for our health system but also for our society and economy.  This study will assist us to gain a greater understanding of the impact of frailty as part of the aging process, helping to improve the quality of life for people as they age. I wish all of those involved every success and look forward to hearing the outcomes of the project over the coming years.”