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Ageing research: lifelong health and wellbeing


To encourage research on the normal ageing process that will inform strategies for improving health span and wellbeing across the lifecourse, and thus reduce pressure on the health and social care systems.

Research funded under this priority will form a significant part of BBSRC's contribution to the cross-Council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) Programme (see external links) and address the relevant scientific challenges highlighted in the UK Ageing Strategy (2010) (see downloads).

Scientific scope

This priority encompasses the following:

  • Fundamental (mechanistic) research on the biology of ageing and its modulation by diet, physical activity and developmental factors
  • Understanding how the ageing process can act as a risk factor for frailty and poor health
  • Research that will identify interventions to improve physical and mental wellbeing in later life

BBSRC encourages multidisciplinary applications that, where appropriate, employ modeling, develop new tools and technologies and/or take an integrative or systems biology approach. Illustrative examples of key areas within the priority are shown below:

Diet, physical activity and health during ageing

A large body of evidence, supported by good animal models, demonstrates that the quality and quantity of food, and dietary choice affects ageing and lifespan. There are also good data that aerobic exercise increases healthy lifespan, improves regulation of glucose metabolism and can reduce age-related deterioration of the musculoskeletal system. In both cases, the precise mechanisms remain poorly understood. The influence of individual genetic and epigenetic variation is also unclear. So there is a need to understand the mechanisms by which diet and physical activity influence health across the lifecourse. It is important to have clear, appropriate outcome measures, including biomarkers of healthy ageing as surrogate endpoints in studies with long-lived species such as humans.

Developmental factors and health during ageing

Evidence increasingly suggests that impaired growth in utero especially when followed by rapid post-natal growth can seriously impair many aspects of health and may influence the ageing process. The mechanisms by which these early life exposures are mediated are poorly understood. There is a need to encourage research that investigates how early developmental factors may influence health during ageing. Specifically, the challenges are to understand i) how nutritional (and other) exposures are recorded and transmitted through subsequent generations of cells and ii) how this "memory" is translated into altered function in later life. Model systems for studying these processes will be vital to improve understanding of basic processes.

Ageing as a risk factor for loss of function and mental and physical frailty

There is a need to understand how the normal ageing process can act as a risk factor for poor physical and mental health. We encourage research on generic molecular and cellular mechanisms by which normal ageing leads to frailty and loss of homeostasis, with particular interest on commonalities in ageing in different tissues. Key issues include linking changes at the molecular and cellular level to those observed at the tissue and whole organism level, and the development of appropriate outcome measures of the onset and progress of loss of homeostasis, for example, in areas such as gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, immune, cognitive and sensory systems.

Although it is recognized that ageing is a risk factor for the development of disease, research directed at human pathology and disease is outside BBSRC's remit.

Outputs and impacts

Outputs from an increased understanding of the basic biological mechanisms of normal healthy ageing are positioned uniquely at the vital, very early stage of knowledge generation in bioscience. Impacts are expected to improve wellbeing across the lifecourse when this increased understanding is used by other public and private funders to underpin innovation in healthcare, interventions to slow or modify the ageing process and new pharmaceutical targets.

Pathways to impact

The pathways to impact document should explain how the applicants will, during the course of the project, explore the potential to translate the outputs of the work. For example, applicants could consider the translational opportunities that can arise from multidisciplinary collaborations within the cross-Council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme and with ageing charities and the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. Capacity building is an important impact and proposals could identify opportunities both for training and bringing researchers from other disciplines into the area. Translational opportunities for outputs or impacts on policy with Government bodies or departments (e.g. DH) should be explored.

Ethical and other issues

Applicants will need to consider their licenses and local ethical approval prior to applications and should refer to the BBSRC grants guide.