Researchers at 28 UK universities will create 11 new networks, teaming up to tackle healthy aging.
Previous reviews of how to boost healthy aging research in the UK have found research efforts to be fragmented, focusing on single aspects of aging, rather than a cohesive strategy for healthy aging. Recognising that there is a need to improve research in this vital area, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC) have combined their investment power to the tune of £2 million to create the UK Ageing Networks.
Longevity.Technology: Aging is series of interconnected processes and studying it involves gerentology, biology, medicine, epidemiology, public health, economics, healthcare infrastructure… These new interdisciplinary research networks are bringing researchers and stakeholders from different disciplines together to create new knowledge and better outcomes for us all. By facilitating the development of new research approaches, the UK Ageing Networks will accelerate our understanding of healthy aging and longevity and produce new and effective solutions for an aging population.
The 11 new networks aim to provide researchers with strong interdisciplinary platforms to integrate expertise and knowledge across disciplines, leveraging connections to deliver a better understanding of the biological mechanisms of aging and how to increase healthy lifespan and quality of life in old age.
Coordinated at a macro-level by Professors Lynne Cox and Richard Faragher, the networks will significantly increase collaboration with key stakeholders. They aim to translate findings into future policy, public health and new therapies by working alongside:
- The public
- Industry partners
- Healthcare practitioners
Putting research findings into practice
“Major scientific advances over the past decade have shown that different age-related diseases stem from core biological processes that can be modified to improve health in later life,” said Professor Cox. “This is an incredibly exciting time to be working in ageing science, particularly as it may be possible not only to treat age-related diseases at cause, but also to take a preventative approach.
“The interdisciplinary nature of the new ageing networks allows us to draw in expertise from across all academic disciplines and work with clinicians, biotech, industry and policy makers to put research findings into practice .”.
Transforming health in later years
“We are at the cusp of scientific developments that will transform health in later years,” added Professor Faragher. “By being able to keep millions of older people healthy and out of hospital, we can hugely reduce costs and pressures on the NHS and GPs. Be in no doubt. A race is now on, and the countries and companies that can capitalise on the biology of ageing will dominate 21st century healthcare .”
Addressing the major societal challenge of healthy aging
Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of BBSRC, said: “At the heart of improved health and wellbeing is a deep, integrated understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that contribute to maintaining health across the full life course. An understanding that is underpinned by collaboration, partnerships and shared knowledge.
“By funding the Ageing Networks, we’re not only addressing a major societal challenge, we’re also stimulating multidisciplinary research and innovation, with the potential for some really exciting breakthroughs .”
Building UK-wide collaborations
“How to keep people healthier as they live longer is one of the biggest challenges facing 21st century medicine and our society,” said Professor John Iredale, interim Executive Chair of MRC. “To make greater progress we need to transform how we conduct ageing research, both by bringing together scientists from many disciplines with the public, clinicians, policymakers and industry.
“The new networks we’re funding will build UK-wide collaborations to better understand the fundamentals of ageing, paving the way towards the development of novel interventions to prevent, halt or reverse aberrant ageing .”
11 brand-new networks for healthy aging
- Establishing a network to catalyse collaboration for reducing immune ageing: catalyst reducing immune ageing (CARINA). Led by Professor Arne Akbar, University College London, this network aims to bring together immunologists with non-immunologists who study areas relevant to understanding immune ageing, to identify new strategies to understand and overcome the challenges of the ageing immune system.
- Muscle resilience across the life course: from cells to society (MyAge). Led by Professor Peter J S Smith of the University of Southampton, this network will take a reverse engineering approach to understand the mechanistic pathways of muscle development, differentiation and decline, aiming to develop a roadmap to interventions that can achieve five more years of independent living.
- Lifelong physical activity targeting inequalities (ATTAIN), which is led by Dr Leigh Breen, University of Birmingham. People from socially disadvantaged or ethnic minority groups have lower physical activity on average and are underrepresented in research. This network aims to bring together molecular, cellular and population-level research approaches to identify and address the physical, environmental and psychosocial barriers to physically active living, working with key stakeholders, policymakers and industry partners, as well as socially deprived and minority ethnic communities in the UK.
- Harnessing knowledge of lifespan, biological, health, environmental and psychosocial mechanisms of cognitive frailty for integrated interventions (CFIN). Led by Professor Carol Holland at Lancaster University, the network will aim to understand mechanisms of cognitive frailty and identify pathways for targeted interventions across the lifespan.
- Food for added life years: putting research into action (Food4Years), led by Dr Miriam Clegg at the University of Reading. There are many barriers for older people to consume a nutrient dense diet, with one in ten people over the age of 65 malnourished or at risk of malnutrition in the UK. This project aims to develop and deliver changes that promote healthy, affordable foods and diets for older adults.
- Ageing and nutrition sensing (AGENT). Led by Professor Gary Frost of Imperial College London, the network will bring together researchers in areas ranging from nutrition to cellular biology and human physiology to population health, aiming to address all aspects on the pathway from fundamental research to how this new knowledge will apply to policy making to improve healthy lifespan and quality of life in old age.
- An interdisciplinary ageing alliance: cellular metabolism over a life-course in socioeconomic disadvantaged populations (CELLO). Led by Dr Sian Henson, Queen Mary University of London, this network aims to bring an interdisciplinary team together, which will investigate how metabolic dysfunction of ageing cells is dictated by both intrinsic (for example, genetic) and extrinsic (for example, environmental) mechanisms from an early age. Understanding changes in cellular metabolism throughout the life course is essential to identify ways of addressing this inequality in healthy ageing seen in socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.
- Skin microbiome in healthy ageing (SMiHA) which is led by Professor M Julie Thornton at the University of Bradford. The composition of the microbes on the skin alters with age, alongside changes such as thinning and dryness. The very elderly can suffer from chronically infected wounds which are resistant to treatment. The hormonal changes of menopause cause alterations in the skin and its microbiome. This network aims to bring together skin scientists and microbiologists, clinicians and industry to better understand and target changes in the skin microbiome with ageing.
- Extracellular matrix ageing across the life course interdisciplinary research network (ECMage), led by Dr Elizabeth Laird at the University of Liverpool will aim to develop models to study Extracellular matrix (ECM) ageing. ECM is the main structural component of tissues and organs and its deterioration leads to abnormal communication between cells and loss of vital functions, which contributes to many age-related diseases.
- The BLAST Network: building links in ageing science and translation is led by Professor Richard Faragher, University of Brighton and Professor Lynne Cox, University of Oxford. The network will focus on identifying biomarkers of age-related poor health and understanding the mechanistic drivers of biological ageing that diminish healthy lifespan and will aim to identify effective interventions in ageing processes and promote the implementation of findings through translation into policy and practice.
- The ageing research translation (ART) of healthy ageing network, led by Professor Miles Witham of Newcastle University. Major advances are being made in the biology and epidemiology of ageing, but these advances are not always being translated from the laboratory to the clinic. The ART of Healthy Ageing network aims to bring complementary expertise to build the necessary capacity, knowledge and resources for effective translation of advances in ageing biology and epidemiology into interventions for human testing.