Where the aging research community merges gently with longevity research, the present day sees the development of initiatives such as the Longevity Dividend. The mainstream of aging research is all about genes and metabolism, and so their approach to longevity research is - broadly, and within several camps - to understand and manipulate genes and metabolic processes in order to slow down the accumulation of damage that causes aging. The past decade in the US-centric research community has seen some very interesting technology demonstrations of extreme healthy longevity in animals, an increasing understanding of the biochemistry of calorie restriction, and hundreds of millions of dollars in venture funding aimed at the development of therapies for specific age-related conditions based upon this research.
This is not the winning path forward, nor is it the fast path forward to extended healthy human life spans - but I've talked enough about that elsewhere. In short, for very basic and sound reasons, reworking a complex system to slow the accumulation of damage can never be as effective or as good a use of resources as identifying and repairing that damage without changing the system. If you want to live longer, rather than dying knowing that your children or grandchildren will benefit, then you have to support the faster path.
Professor Partridge and colleagues will look at the cellular and biochemical mechanisms of ageing in fruit flies, nematode worms and mice, and in particular the role of insulin signalling. Recent research has revealed that changes to single genes can make animals live longer, by maintaining health and delaying the onset of ageing-related diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"What is particularly exciting about this approach is that altering an animal's genetic make-up seems able to slow down many diseases of ageing simultaneously," says Dr David Gems, a co-recipient of the award. "For example, mice remain youthful for longer and have glossy fur with slowed appearance of grey hair. Their eyes are unclouded by cataracts, and they are more active, both physically and sexually."
The researchers hope to explore how their findings in the animal models relate to the human ageing process, in particular neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.
Key to the success of the Institute of Healthy Ageing will be the focus on multi-disciplinary collaboration. The research will receive inputs from subjects ranging from biogerontology (the study of biological processes giving rise to old age), human gerontology, and the study of ageing-related diseases through to chemistry, epidemiology and social policy studies.
"By encouraging collaboration between the Institute itself and leading groups around the UK, both clinical and basic scientists, we hope to be able to move towards developing a broad spectrum of medicines to prevent the biological damage that ageing causes," says Dr Gems.
While it is a large step up from a decade ago to see funding come to gerontologists who speak openly about the desirability of engineering longevity, it is a pity that the community has not settled on the faster path first. That means time will be taken in demonstrating the merits of that path before funding will accelerate greatly to the levels required for broad, rapid, sustained progress.