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Keeping longer lives healthier

Queen’s is one of four universities taking forward new national research focusing on wellbeing in later life.

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The Building Links in Ageing Science and Translation (BLAST) network will set the nationwide research agenda for the development of new tools and interventions to help people stay healthy as they grow old and tackle conditions which are currently untreatable.

Bringing together biomedical researchers from across the country, the aim is to increase our understanding of how the ageing process causes illness and impairment. Treatments could include finding ways to remove senescent cells –which are known to be a major cause of ageing - from tissue or learning how to activate the cellular recycling process to help these cells function well again. 

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), BLAST is directed by two of the UK’s leading experts on ageing, Professor Richard Faragher of Brighton University and Professor Lynne Cox of Oxford University. Key cross-disciplinary expertise is being contributed by Professor Richard Hartley of Glasgow University and Dr Colin McClure of Queen’s University Belfast.

Speaking about the aims of the network, Dr McClure said: “People are living longer than ever before, but unfortunately many suffer from a number of health-limiting conditions in their later years, not only impacting upon their quality of life, but also putting stress on the NHS and healthcare systems worldwide.

Interdisciplinary networks such as BLAST provide a timely and unique opportunity to bring the various fields of ageing research together to assist in translating research into practice. In doing so, these networks aim to help identify new treatments and preventative strategies to lengthen the health-span, in other words, keeping people healthier for longer. This is a truly exciting time for ageing research given the recent technologies and advances developed across the UK and beyond.”

Professor Faragher, a co-lead of the network said:

“A race is now on, and the countries and companies that can capitalise on the biology of ageing will be in a position to shape global healthcare provision as life expectancy continues to rise to levels previous generations could only dream of.”

The BLAST project is one response to the UK government’s pledge to increase the healthy life expectancy of the population by an extra five years by 2035 without increasing inequality. Ten other ageing networks, bringing together forty UK universities, have also been funded by BBSRC and MRC, but with BLAST playing a key role in harmonising and facilitating this new national effort.

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