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Major new study into brain ageing

25 May 2010

Research efforts to understand the effects of ageing on the brain have been given a major boost with the announcement of a new £5M grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The funding has been awarded to a team from public health, clinical neurosciences and psychology at the University of Cambridge and scientists from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit who aim to understand how brain ageing in healthy people affects abilities like language and memory. This team will be called the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (CamCAN).

Brain image showing degrees of damage
© Lorraine Tyler, University of Cambridge
The ageing process does not have a uniform effect across the brain. Older people often struggle, for example, to recall the right word in a conversation, but can continue to expand their vocabulary throughout old age. Understanding what structures in the brain account for this variation will be a crucial first step in allowing more people to retain a range of mental abilities throughout their lives.

Professor Lorraine Tyler of the University of Cambridge who is leading the research said "Our mental abilities don't suddenly start to decline as we enter retirement. In fact, many are retained right into our eighties and we are often too quick to attribute normal lapses like forgetfulness to the effects of age."

"Understanding the complexities of how ageing affects the brain will be crucial for older people to be able to live fulfilled lives and contribute fully to society. We hope that this research will not only add to this understanding, but will also have an important impact on how we view the ageing process, as one of change, rather than inevitable deterioration."

The study is unique in recruiting 3000 people aged 18-88 years, who will be drawn from the general population to create a large library of information on how healthy brain ageing affects mental abilities to different degrees. Not only will this help in identifying older people who might be helped by therapies, but also, the team hopes, will provide a lasting resource for future researchers to draw on.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell said, "Here in the UK we can now expect to live some 30 years longer than did people a century ago. Whilst life expectancy is expected to continue to rise, many people suffer with deteriorating physical and mental health as they grow older.

"Improving the quality of life of ageing populations is a global research challenge, so it is vital that large studies like this provide data and resources for future scientists all over the world."

The study is funded by one of BBSRC's Strategic Longer and Larger Awards which give world leading teams the time and resources to address areas of key strategic importance.

ENDS

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299