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Transatlantic research partnership aims for longer, healthier lives

Research efforts to help the world's ageing population live longer, healthier lives have been given a major boost with the announcement of six new transatlantic research projects that aim to understanding the biology of the ageing process.

The US funding agency for ageing research (the National Institute on Aging, or NIA) and the UK's funding body for bioscience research (the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, or BBSRC) are jointly funding £4 million of projects. Each project includes leading researchers from universities from both the UK and the USA.

The transatlantic research teams will study the biology that drives how our bodies change with age. Their aim is to generate knowledge about the biology behind ageing that will ultimately contribute to a better quality of life and health for the growing older population.

Among the challenges that the projects will investigate are why an older person's immune systems doesn't always work as well as a younger person's, what genetic and molecular effects in the body determine age span, and how environmental factors impact on the genetics of ageing.

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: ‘We are seeing increased life expectancy in the developed world and a growing older population as a consequence. Living a long life is one thing, but living a healthy, active and enjoyable life into old age is quite another.

‘To appreciate what older people need in order to remain healthy and active we must understand as much as we can about what is going on in an ageing body. With this knowledge, our clinical colleagues can develop healthcare and disease prevention strategies that will see older people on both sides of the Atlantic, and beyond, living fulfilled and happy lives. By working together, BBSRC and NIA have been able to capitalise on the world class research in both countries and leverage the funding available to our scientists.’

NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, MD, said: ‘We are excited to expand our scientific pursuits through this unique opportunity to work with our colleagues overseas. Research aimed at better understanding the nature of aging should help us find ways to extend the healthy, active years of life.’

By combining researchers from the UK and US, the projects can capitalize on the different skill sets and assets each country has. The University of Glasgow and Brown University will work together to test a new biological theory of ageing; University College London and the University of Arizona will collaborate to study the decline in immunity of the skin of older people; the University of Edinburgh and the University of Georgia will examine the effects of fluctuating hormone levels on older people's immune systems; King's College London and the Georgia Institute of Technology will ask how environmental factors can impact the level of activity of certain genes involved in ageing; Bangor University and the University of Texas Health Science Centre, San Antonio, are looking to the world's longest-lived animal, the ocean quahog, to ask what factors affect longevity and how can they lead to such a wide variation in lifespan; and Imperial College London and the University of Washington are focusing on a molecular system in cells that is involved in healthy ageing (some of the elements in this system are already targets for drugs due to their roles in cancer, meaning there is a real possibility of drugs to prevent the deterioration of health in older people).

Professor Kell continued: ‘We are really delighted to see these valuable international collaborations arise out of the joint sponsorship programme we set up with NIA. Science has become a truly global effort these days, and we are very happy to support researchers who are coming together to maximise effort and take full advantage of each other's strengths.’

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