By 2050 about 20% of the world’s population will be over 60, leading to a global increase in the number of people suffering from chronic ‘diseases of ageing’ such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Understanding ageing is a new research priority worldwide and two hundred scientists from around the world recently gathered at the Babraham Institute for a summit on Ageing Research, which attracted leading researchers from the USA, Europe, Israel and the UK. The conference aimed to strengthen ageing research in the UK and to promote the seamless interaction between research into normal ageing and the application of this knowledge to age-related disease.
Scientists across the world are beginning to address the molecular and cellular details of how our bodies change during normal ageing, what this tells us about the process of age-related disorders, and how the period of healthy ageing could be extended.
Professor Michael Wakelam, Director of the Babraham Institute said, "Understanding how to stay healthier for longer as lifespans increase and society ages is a key concern for the research community. It is through conferences like this, bringing together world-leading scientists and younger researchers that knowledge is exchanged leading to international collaborations that help to drive science forward. We hope that the information sharing at this conference will promote new collaborations which will increase the input of understanding from other areas of bioscience into ageing research."
Dr Tom Misteli, Associate Director of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health (NIH), USA, an internationally-renowned expert in genome cell biology spoke about his research, which is contributing new knowledge for the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for cancer and ageing. He said, "The conference at Babraham was unusual in that it succeeded in bridging the gap between vastly different disciplines, ranging from human physiology to genetics that are present in the ageing field. This is fairly rare for the ageing field. Going forward, the problem of ageing can only be tackled in an interdisciplinary approach exemplified by the range of expertise at display at the conference.
"From discussion with numerous participants it is clear to me that the conference inspired new research directions and drew in scientists, particularly post-docs and students, from related fields to now think about the problem of ageing."
The meeting was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which provides strategic funding to the Babraham Institute, together with additional funding from the commercial sector, charities focussed on age-related disease and the Babraham Institute.
Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK, one of the conference sponsors said, "The UK, like many countries all over the world, has an ageing population. Whilst we celebrate this, we must also acknowledge the challenges that it brings, in particular the inevitable rise in age-related illness."
"Understanding how and why the process of ageing leads to increased vulnerability to illness in later life is fundamental to solving age-related health problems. Bringing latest research and pre-eminent experts in the field together, events like the BBSRC Ageing and Basic Bioscience Conference are extremely important in exchanging new knowledge so we're delighted to have been involved. Great progress is being made internationally, but there is still some way to go before we can prevent or hold back many age-related diseases. This underlines the urgent need for continued research effort and funding in the UK and overseas."
Michael Coleman, a Group Leader at Babraham and lead organiser of the international Conference said, "One of the most important reasons to study normal ageing is to improve our understanding of the biological context where age-related diseases arise. Ageing is a concern that none of us can avoid and also an increasingly important issue at the population level. At best it causes a steady decline in a wide range of bodily functions and at worst it greatly increases our risk of age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. All of these have a major economic cost, both through the ageing population themselves and through the ever increasing army of younger carers that become unavailable for other types of work."
Some of these wider issues were explored during a public discussion event at the Guildhall on Saturday 22nd September - 'A Question of Ageing' – which was attended by over 100 people aged between 2 and 96, with every decade in between represented. After the panel discussion, the audience engaged enthusiastically with panellists and other researchers during the 'speed dating' session, posing further questions and raising their personal concerns about an ageing society.
Dr Claire Cockcroft, who leads Public Engagement activities at the Babraham Institute said, "Our panel discussed a variety of research areas related to normal ageing and age-related disorders, the commercial challenges of developing new therapies, as well as touching upon some of the socio-economic implications of an ageing population. Alongside the panel debate, we also had some fun, hands-on activities but perhaps most importantly it was an opportunity for the scientific community to listen to people's views and concerns as they approach old age. Many visitors also discussed the barriers to accessing healthcare and social activities for older people, underscoring the important interplay between science, medicine, policy and local government."
Photo at top of page shows: (From left to right)
Prof. Lorraine Tyler – Centre for Ageing & Neuroscience
Dr. Rod Rietze – pharmaceutical & biotech sector
Mr Tim Radford – Former Science Editor The Guardian
Dr. Jemeen Sreedharan – Clinician, KCL
Dr. Michael Coleman – Babraham Institute, Cambridge
Dr. Simon Ridley – Alzheimer’s Research UK
Dr. Jan van Deursen – Mayo Clinic, USA
Dr Claire Cockcroft
Head, External Relations
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Scientists must collaborate to meet ageing challenge
Business Weekly 8th October
Notes to editors:
The Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding (£22.4M in 2010-11) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), undertakes international quality life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. The Institute’s research provides greater understanding of the biological events that underlie the normal functions of cells and the implication of failure or abnormalities in these processes. Research focuses on signalling and genome regulation, particularly the interplay between the two and how epigenetic signals can influence important physiological adaptations during the lifespan of an organism. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and healthier ageing. (www.babraham.ac.uk)
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. Funded by the UK Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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