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1.  Using natural experiments to evaluate population health interventions: new MRC guidance 
Natural experimental studies are often recommended as a way of understanding the health impact of policies and other large scale interventions. Although they have certain advantages over planned experiments, and may be the only option when it is impossible to manipulate exposure to the intervention, natural experimental studies are more susceptible to bias. This paper introduces new guidance from the Medical Research Council to help researchers and users, funders and publishers of research evidence make the best use of natural experimental approaches to evaluating population health interventions. The guidance emphasises that natural experiments can provide convincing evidence of impact even when effects are small or take time to appear. However, a good understanding is needed of the process determining exposure to the intervention, and careful choice and combination of methods, testing of assumptions and transparent reporting is vital. More could be learnt from natural experiments in future as experience of promising but lesser used methods accumulates.
doi:10.1136/jech-2011-200375
PMCID: PMC3796763  PMID: 22577181
2.  Genetic markers of bone and joint health and physical capability in older adults: the HALCyon programme 
Bone  2013;52(1):278-285.
Background
Good bone and joint health is essential for the physical tasks of daily living and poorer indicators of physical capability in older adults have been associated with increased mortality rates. Genetic variants of indicators of bone and joint health may be associated with measures of physical capability.
Methods
As part of the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) programme, men and women aged between 52 and 90 + years from six UK cohorts were genotyped for a polymorphism associated with serum calcium (rs1801725, CASR), two polymorphisms associated with bone mineral density (BMD) (rs2941740, ESR1 and rs9594759, RANKL) and one associated with osteoarthritis risk rs3815148 (COG5). Meta-analysis was used to pool within-study effects of the associations between each of the polymorphisms and measures of physical capability: grip strength, timed walk or get up and go, chair rises and standing balance.
Results
Few important associations were observed among the several tests. We found that carriers of the serum calcium-raising allele had poorer grip strength compared with non-carriers (pooled p = 0.05, n = 11,239) after adjusting for age and sex. Inconsistent results were observed for the two variants associated with BMD and we found no evidence for an association between rs3815148 (COG5) and any of the physical capability measures.
Conclusion
Our findings suggest elevated serum calcium levels may lead to lower grip strength, though this requires further replication. Our results do not provide evidence for a substantial influence of these variants in ESR1, RANKL and COG5 on physical capability in older adults.
Highlights
► We examined associations between bone-related genotypes and physical capability. ► We conducted a meta-analysis on 12,836 middle-age adults. ► We found CASR may be associated with grip strength. ► No substantial support for specific bone mineral density variants and physical capability.
doi:10.1016/j.bone.2012.10.004
PMCID: PMC3526776  PMID: 23072920
BMD, bone mineral density; OA, osteoarthritis; BMI, body mass index; SNP, single nucleotide polymorphism; CaPS, Caerphilly Prospective Study; ELSA, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing; HAS, Hertfordshire Ageing Study; HCS, Hertfordshire Cohort Study; LBC1921, The Lothian Birth Cohort 1921; NSHD, National Survey of Health and Development; HWE, Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium; WHR, waist–hip ratio; GWAS, genome-wide association studies; Aging; Grip strength; Calcium; Bone mineral density; Osteoarthritis
3.  ACTN3 genotype, athletic status and lifecourse physical capability: meta-analysis of the published literature and findings from nine studies 
Human mutation  2011;32(9):1008-1018.
The ACTN3 R577X (rs1815739) genotype has been associated with athletic status and muscle phenotypes, though not consistently. Our objective was to conduct a meta-analysis of the published literature on athletic status and investigate its associations with physical capability in several new population-based studies. Relevant data were extracted from studies in the literature, comparing genotype frequencies between controls and sprint/power and endurance athletes. For lifecourse physical capability, data were used from two studies of adolescents and seven studies in the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) collaborative research programme, involving individuals aged between 53 and 90+ years. We found evidence from the published literature to support the hypothesis that in Europeans the RR genotype is more common among sprint/power athletes compared with their controls. There is currently no evidence that the X allele is advantageous to endurance athleticism. We found no association between R577X and grip strength (p-value=0.09, n=7672 in males; p-value=0.90, n=7839 in females), standing balance, timed get up and go or chair rises in our studies of physical capability. The ACTN3 R577X genotype is associated with sprint/power athletic status in Europeans, but does not appear to be associated with objective measures of physical capability in the general population.
doi:10.1002/humu.21526
PMCID: PMC3174315  PMID: 21542061
ACTN3; Actinin-3; athlete; aging; SNP; grip strength
4.  ACTN3 Genotype, Athletic Status, and Life Course Physical Capability: Meta-Analysis of the Published Literature and Findings from Nine Studies 
Human Mutation  2011;32(9):1008-1018.
The ACTN3 R577X (rs1815739) genotype has been associated with athletic status and muscle phenotypes, although not consistently. Our objective was to conduct a meta-analysis of the published literature on athletic status and investigate its associations with physical capability in several new population-based studies. Relevant data were extracted from studies in the literature, comparing genotype frequencies between controls and sprint/power and endurance athletes. For life course physical capability, data were used from two studies of adolescents and seven studies in the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) collaborative research program, involving individuals aged between 53 and 90+ years. We found evidence from the published literature to support the hypothesis that in Europeans the RR genotype is more common among sprint/power athletes compared with their controls. There is currently no evidence that the X allele is advantageous to endurance athleticism. We found no association between R577X and grip strength (P = 0.09, n = 7,672 in males; P = 0.90, n = 7,839 in females), standing balance, timed get up and go, or chair rises in our studies of physical capability. The ACTN3 R577X genotype is associated with sprint/power athletic status in Europeans, but does not appear to be associated with objective measures of physical capability in the general population. Hum Mutat 32:1–11, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
doi:10.1002/humu.21526
PMCID: PMC3174315  PMID: 21542061
ACTN3; Actinin-3; athlete; aging; SNP; grip strength
5.  Absence of association of a SNP in the TERT-CLPTM1L locus with age-related phenotypes in a large multi-cohort study: the HALCyon program 
Aging cell  2011;10(3):520-532.
Summary
Background
Several age-related traits are associated with shorter telomeres, the structures that cap the end of linear chromosomes. A common polymorphism near the telomere maintenance gene TERT has been associated with several cancers, but relationships with other ageing traits such as physical capability have not been reported.
Methods
As part of the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) collaborative research programme, men and women aged between 44 and 90 years from 9 UK cohorts were genotyped for the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs401681. We then investigated relationships between the SNP and 30 age-related phenotypes, including cognitive and physical capability, blood lipid levels and lung function, pooling within-study genotypic effects in meta-analyses.
Results
No significant associations were found between the SNP and any of the cognitive performance tests (e.g. pooled beta per T allele for word recall z-score=0.02, 95% CI: -0.01- 0.04, p-value=0.12, n=18,737), physical performance tests (e.g. pooled beta for grip strength=-0.02, 95% CI:-0.045- 0.006, p-value=0.14, n=11,711), blood pressure, lung function or blood test measures. Similarly, no differences in observations were found when considering follow-up measures of cognitive or physical performance after adjusting for its measure at an earlier assessment.
Conclusion
The lack of associations between SNP rs401681 and a wide range of age-related phenotypes investigated in this large multi-cohort study suggests that whilst this SNP may be associated with cancer, it is not an important contributor to other markers of ageing.
doi:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2011.00687.x
PMCID: PMC3094481  PMID: 21332924
Aging; ageing; middle-aged; telomere; cognition; physical
6.  A Multi-Cohort Study of Polymorphisms in the GH/IGF Axis and Physical Capability: The HALCyon Programme 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29883.
Background
Low muscle mass and function have been associated with poorer indicators of physical capability in older people, which are in-turn associated with increased mortality rates. The growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor (GH/IGF) axis is involved in muscle function and genetic variants in genes in the axis may influence measures of physical capability.
Methods
As part of the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) programme, men and women from seven UK cohorts aged between 52 and 90 years old were genotyped for six polymorphisms: rs35767 (IGF1), rs7127900 (IGF2), rs2854744 (IGFBP3), rs2943641 (IRS1), rs2665802 (GH1) and the exon-3 deletion of GHR. The polymorphisms have previously been robustly associated with age-related traits or are potentially functional. Meta-analysis was used to pool within-study genotypic effects of the associations between the polymorphisms and four measures of physical capability: grip strength, timed walk or get up and go, chair rises and standing balance.
Results
Few important associations were observed among the several tests. We found evidence that rs2665802 in GH1 was associated with inability to balance for 5 s (pooled odds ratio per minor allele = 0.90, 95% CI: 0.82–0.98, p-value = 0.01, n = 10,748), after adjusting for age and sex. We found no evidence for other associations between the polymorphisms and physical capability traits.
Conclusion
Our findings do not provide evidence for a substantial influence of these common polymorphisms in the GH/IGF axis on objectively measured physical capability levels in older adults.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029883
PMCID: PMC3254646  PMID: 22253814
7.  Childhood Socioeconomic Position and Objectively Measured Physical Capability Levels in Adulthood: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e15564.
Background
Grip strength, walking speed, chair rising and standing balance time are objective measures of physical capability that characterise current health and predict survival in older populations. Socioeconomic position (SEP) in childhood may influence the peak level of physical capability achieved in early adulthood, thereby affecting levels in later adulthood. We have undertaken a systematic review with meta-analyses to test the hypothesis that adverse childhood SEP is associated with lower levels of objectively measured physical capability in adulthood.
Methods and Findings
Relevant studies published by May 2010 were identified through literature searches using EMBASE and MEDLINE. Unpublished results were obtained from study investigators. Results were provided by all study investigators in a standard format and pooled using random-effects meta-analyses. 19 studies were included in the review. Total sample sizes in meta-analyses ranged from N = 17,215 for chair rise time to N = 1,061,855 for grip strength. Although heterogeneity was detected, there was consistent evidence in age adjusted models that lower childhood SEP was associated with modest reductions in physical capability levels in adulthood: comparing the lowest with the highest childhood SEP there was a reduction in grip strength of 0.13 standard deviations (95% CI: 0.06, 0.21), a reduction in mean walking speed of 0.07 m/s (0.05, 0.10), an increase in mean chair rise time of 6% (4%, 8%) and an odds ratio of an inability to balance for 5s of 1.26 (1.02, 1.55). Adjustment for the potential mediating factors, adult SEP and body size attenuated associations greatly. However, despite this attenuation, for walking speed and chair rise time, there was still evidence of moderate associations.
Conclusions
Policies targeting socioeconomic inequalities in childhood may have additional benefits in promoting the maintenance of independence in later life.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015564
PMCID: PMC3027621  PMID: 21297868
8.  Absence of association of a single-nucleotide polymorphism in the TERT-CLPTM1L locus with age-related phenotypes in a large multicohort study: the HALCyon programme 
Aging Cell  2011;10(3):520-532.
Several age-related traits are associated with shorter telomeres, the structures that cap the end of linear chromosomes. A common polymorphism near the telomere maintenance gene TERT has been associated with several cancers, but relationships with other aging traits such as physical capability have not been reported. As part of the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) collaborative research programme, men and women aged between 44 and 90 years from nine UK cohorts were genotyped for the single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs401681. We then investigated relationships between the SNP and 30 age-related phenotypes, including cognitive and physical capability, blood lipid levels and lung function, pooling within-study genotypic effects in meta-analyses. No significant associations were found between the SNP and any of the cognitive performance tests (e.g. pooled beta per T allele for word recall z-score = 0.02, 95% CI: −0.01 to 0.04, P-value = 0.12, n = 18 737), physical performance tests (e.g. pooled beta for grip strength = −0.02, 95% CI: −0.045 to 0.006, P-value = 0.14, n = 11 711), blood pressure, lung function or blood test measures. Similarly, no differences in observations were found when considering follow-up measures of cognitive or physical performance after adjusting for its measure at an earlier assessment. The lack of associations between SNP rs401681 and a wide range of age-related phenotypes investigated in this large multicohort study suggests that while this SNP may be associated with cancer, it is not an important contributor to other markers of aging.
doi:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2011.00687.x
PMCID: PMC3094481  PMID: 21332924
aging; cognition; middle-aged; physical; telomere

Results 1-8 (8)