Oxford, The BLAST (Building Links in Ageing Science and Translation) network brings together researchers from all over the country to learn more about how the aging process causes illness and impairment in later life. It will help shape the national research agenda for the development of new tools and interventions to help people stay healthy as they age and treat conditions for which there is currently little treatment.
Treatments aimed at removing or modifying senescent cells, which are known to drive aging pathology, are among the potential new developments. Identifying aging biology markers that can detect changes before the onset of illness and can be used to monitor the efficacy of early treatments is also a priority. The network will also investigate regenerative approaches to health improvement.
Breakthroughs like these would significantly improve the quality of life for older people in the UK, as well as have a significant impact on national productivity and wealth. According to research conducted in the United States, adding just one year to healthy life expectancy would add trillions of dollars to the US economy. Similar savings are possible in the United Kingdom, with new research putting the country at the forefront of the burgeoning the new biotech industry.
The BLAST network, which was launched on March 8th and is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), is directed by two of the UK’s leading experts on aging, Professor Lynne Cox of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Oxford and Professor Richard Faragher of the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Brighton. Professor Richard Hartley, Professor of Chemical Biology at Glasgow University, and Dr. Colin McClure of Queen’s University Belfast also contribute critical cross-disciplinary expertise.
The BLAST project is one response to the UK Government’s pledge to increase the population’s healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 without increasing inequality. The BBSRC and MRC have also funded ten other interdisciplinary aging networks, bringing together forty UK universities, as part of this new initiative, with Professor Cox and Professor Faragher playing key roles in harmonizing and facilitating this new national effort.
‘Major scientific advances over the last decade have shown that different age-related diseases stem from core biological processes that can be modified to improve health in later life,’ said Professor Cox. This is an extremely exciting time to be working in aging science, especially because it may be possible not only to treat age-related diseases at their root causes but also to take a preventative approach. The new aging networks’ interdisciplinary nature allows us to draw expertise from all academic disciplines and collaborate with clinicians, biotech, industry, and policymakers to put research findings into practice.’
‘A race has now begun, and the countries and companies that can capitalize on the biology of aging will be in a position to shape global healthcare provision as life expectancy continues to rise to levels previous generations could only dream of,’ Professor Faragher added.
Professor Cox runs the Mellon Longevity Science program at Oriel College in addition to running the Lab of Ageing and Cell Senescence at the University of Oxford. She also serves on the strategy board of the Oxford Ageing Research Collaborative Hub, the Clinical and Translational Science panel of the Biochemical Society, the Strategic Advisory Board, and the Science, Technology, and Genomics Board of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity, and is co-chair of the APPG. She was one of the first British recipients of the US Glenn Foundation Award for research into biological mechanisms of aging, which was bestowed upon her in the House of Lords in 2014.
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