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‘Geropalooza’ jump-starts geroscience research at KU Medical Center

The inaugural geroscience symposium is part of KU Medical Center’s broader effort to foster research relevant to aging, age-related diseases, healthspan and longevity.

Presenter stands at a podium with a screen behind her showing medicines and the words "70+ agents in development"
Renee Rogers, Ph.D., won pilot-grant funding to study the effects of weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy on lean muscle mass in older adults.

Anyone who believes that research presentations are by definition long and tedious must not have been in attendance Nov. 15 at the inaugural “Geropalooza,” a symposium co-hosted by the Landon Center on Aging and the Division of Geriatrics at the University of Kansas City Medical Center.

The cornerstone of the symposium was the GeroSprint “lightning talk” challenge, during which pre-selected finalists from KU Medical Center presented their geroscience-related research to compete for $10,000 in pilot-grant funding. Based on a presentation method called Pecha Kucha (“chit-chat” in Japanese), each finalist presented 20 slides that automatically advanced every 20 seconds, giving them just 6 minutes and 40 seconds to make their pitch. More than 60 attendees then scanned a QR code that took them to website to vote on the presentations and choose the winner.

“They did a wonderful job,” said Bruce Troen, M.D., director of the Landon Center. “They only had 20 seconds per slide, but they were creative. One person actually sang, others had fancy slides. It was really cool.”

Held in the Ad Astra room of the Health Education Building on KU Medical Center’s Kansas City campus, this new symposium is part of an effort to invigorate geroscience research and foster collaborations between geroscience investigators at KU, said Bruce Troen, M.D., director of the Landon Center.

“Geriatrics is care for older adults and the diseases that beset them,” Troen noted. “But geroscience looks at the intersection of basic biology of aging, and how that can play a role in the susceptibility to disease and disability. And we know that the single most important risk factor for diseases of aging is aging itself.”

Renee Rogers, Ph.D., senior scientist in the division of Physical Activity and Weight Management, was the winner of the pilot grant. Rogers will look at the effects of the new weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Maunjaro on lean muscle mass in older adults. People lose lean body mass when they lose weight, which is often reported in the media as muscle mass but includes tissue other than muscle such as bone, Rogers said.

Group of people stand facing the camera
Finalists presented GeroSprint “lightning talks” to compete for pilot
funding. Left to right: Julie Galliart, Candice Coffey, Olivia Eller, Cole
Bird, Sodiq Fakorede, Renee Rogers, Denise Zwahlen.

Rogers’ study will use a novel method known as D3CR (deuterated creatine dilution) to measure this lean mass; rather than undergoing an expensive whole-body MRI, patients take a pill and then submit a urine sample that can be used to calculate muscle mass. Knowing what body mass they are losing is important for older people, many of whom take one of these drugs, either for weight loss or diabetes, Rogers noted.

“We want to be able to answer, ‘Is it really muscle that people are losing when they're on these medications?’” said Rogers. “If they are losing weight, let's understand how much is truly muscle, and if it's a higher amount of muscle than we'd expect, is that contributing to fatigue? Is that contributing to weakness? If we really understand what's happening, this will help us build better lifestyle programs to support it.”

The lightning talks were followed by a networking dinner and a keynote speech by Stelios Andreadis, Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University at Buffalo, whose studies explore anti‐aging strategies of cellular reprogramming.

Troen said they plan to hold a Geropalooza every year, and he would also like to hold periodic GeroSprints, the lightning talks, to provide a forum for people to present their research ideas to other researchers who might be interested.

“The real vision here is collaboration, building bigger and better teams for geroscience,” said Troen. “If we do good things for older adults, which is I think is a demographic imperative, we’re going to do good things for just about everybody.”

GeroSprint Challenge Finalists

  • Cole Bird, M.D. candidate: “SINGS — Song-based intervention for neuromusculature in the geriatric swallow”
  • Candice Coffey, M.D., “Improving care and communication in older adults through POCUS and PSAPs”
  • Olivia Eller, Ph.D., “Repeated heat treatment to improve chronic pain, resilience, and frailty in aged mice”
  • Sodiq Fakorede, Ph.D. candidate: “Impaired visual and somatosensory processing during dual-task postural control in older adults with cognitive impairments”
  • Julie Galliart, Ed.D., and Denise Zwahlen, M.D., “Retrieving moments of gratitude: an exercise for cognitive benefits for nursing home residents”
  • Renee Rogers, Ph.D.: “Effects of second-generation incretin hormone agonists on body composition, physical function, and strength in older adults”
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