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Stanford Report, May 24, 2000

Rando to head geriatric center at Palo Alto VA  

BY CAROLINE SEYDEL

Thomas Rando, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology and neurological sciences, has been appointed director of the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Palo Alto Health Care System, as of February. Rando, who is chief of the neurology service at the VA, replaces acting director Andrew Hoffman, MD.

Last May, Rando was named a Beeson Scholar by the American Federation for Aging Research in recognition of his potential as a leader in aging research. The award includes a grant of $150,000 over three years to further his research on mechanisms of age-related muscle atrophy. He plans to continue this research as director of the GRECC and use the award to advance the center.

"It really represents an opportunity to build a program in aging and bring together the various interests throughout the VA and Stanford that focus on biological, medical and social issues of the elderly," he said. Rando was recently invited to be a panel member in Stanford's Difficult Dialogues Program, which has as its focus this year "Aging in the 21st Century." The program is a new academic initiative launched by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and represents the kind of cross-disciplinary approach he envisions for the GRECC.

"He's clearly the best qualified in his understanding of the research issues and the advantages of our particular GRECC," said Hoffman, professor of medicine and of molecular and cellular physiology and associate chief of medicine, who has been the GRECC's acting director for the past five years. Hoffman, chief of medicine at the VA, was part of the search committee that selected Rando from a national pool of candidates.

The Palo Alto GRECC was established in 1975 as part of a nationwide program to serve the aging veteran population. There are currently 20 GRECCs around the country, and their mission is to foster scientific research in the areas of geriatrics and gerontology, train personnel as health care providers for older people, and improve clinical service for older veterans. Each GRECC operates independently of the others, and each has its own specialty. Part of the role of the director is to establish that specialty.

Rando plans to have the GRECC focus on aging and mobility, to build on his own research as well as current research at the GRECC in bone metabolism and endocrinology.

"Two common and important problems in aging are muscle loss and loss of bone density," he said. "A lot of the changes that occur in bone have to do with loss of strength, so it's important to study the interactions between muscle and bone with age."

One of Rando's challenges will be attracting top personnel to Stanford, given the high cost of living, but he feels confident that the opportunity to come in on the "ground floor" of a great program in aging will appeal to top-notch researchers. In the next five years, he predicted, the research environment will expand significantly as he brings new researchers to the program. "The research going on at the GRECC now is excellent," he said, "but we'll all benefit [from the expansion]."

"We have the resources available as well as potential for growth," he said. "Having an excellent research facility here at the VA is key for recruitment, and the Stanford affiliation is a big draw."

Rando is also preparing a proposal for an advanced geriatric research fellowship from the Veterans Health Administration, which oversees the GRECCs. Funding for these two-year fellowships will be awarded to eight GRECCs. The purpose of the fellowships is to train future leaders in geriatrics and gerontological research.

Rando, 42, grew up in Maine, attended Harvard College, and earned an MD and a PhD in cell and developmental biology from Harvard University in 1987. Before coming to Stanford as a postdoc in 1991, he was chief resident in neurology at UCSF. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1995. SR