A new era for the science of ageing

The Government has backed a bid to translate scientific advances in ageing into tangible benefits for the public.

A new network, funded by UK Research and Innovation, is seeking to encourage scientists to work together to maximise the applications of new discoveries and studies.

The move comes as life expectancy stalls and, what we call, healthy life expectancy has slowed. Although a male in England could expect to live 79.4 years, his average healthy life expectancyis only 63.1 years, while a female can expect to live 83.1 years, of which 19.3 years (23 per cent) is spent in ‘not good’ health.

“Our understanding of ageing across the life course is growing yet improvements in healthspan have not kept pace, and inequalities in healthspan, between countries and socioeconomic groups, are stark,” explained Claire Stewart, Professor of Biology at Liverpool John Moores University and chair of the British Society for Research on Ageing.

Translational pipeline

She says that if advances in the biology and epidemiology of ageing are to make a positive difference, an effective translational pipeline is needed — from laboratory and clinical studies, onward into clinical practice and policy.

The team, which includes experts from LJMU, Manchester Met and Newcastle, aim to draw in scientists from a host of different age-related fields to share and plan together.

“Ther key challenge to progress has been insufficient collaboration between different research disciplines,” adds Professor Stewart. “Insights in one area often do not inform progress in other areas. Promising interventions have yet to progress through the translational pathway, and some solutions are currently not deployable in the clinic.”

Although the challenges have long been recognized, a series of government reports and research initiatives have highlighted the fragmentary nature of ageing research in the UK over the last 25 years and the issue recently prompted the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee to call for faster translation from bench to bedside.

Alchemy or bust?

Yet, bringing scientists together does not automatically produce the ‘alchemy’ to find solutions to society’s ills.

Thus, the project, funded to £200,000 will develop skills to enable an interdisciplinary approach. This involves developing familiarity with different ways of conducting science and learning to speak a range of different discipline ‘languages’, with a strong focus on supporting and training early career researchers in interdisciplinary environments.

The potential rewards are great and include increased investment from industry and other partners, particularly if combined with clearer regulatory pathways to market.

The Ageing Research Translation of Healthy Ageing Network is one of 11 networks funded by UKRI that sits within this new interdisciplinary ecosystem and has a specific focus on translational ageing research.

Pool of experts

The team contains a strong mix of complementary expertise including aging biology, life course epidemiology, computational science, experimental medicine, sports science and clinical trials, and has well-established links to a wide range of communities (including the British Geriatrics Society and the British Society for Research on Ageing.)

The project will further create a platform which will map and curate the expertise and resources contained in different centres and bring big data benefits.

“The wider research community will be able to contribute expertise and resources to the platform, and in return will be able to use it as a portal to access collaborators, knowledge and skills outside their own discipline,” added Claire.

Colleague Dr Sandra Ortega Martorell at LJMU said: “The integration of data science will prove immensely valuable given the growing need for the integration of these types of methodologies into work to address important research questions on ageing that depend on the analysis of big and complex data.”


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