Age is the most important risk factor for many debilitating diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type II diabetes, immune disorders, senile dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. Increasing our biological understanding of the ageing process can therefore be expected to deliver the knowledge base from which novel strategies and businesses can be developed to meet the challenges of population ageing.

Ageing research has become established in Europe only over the last two decades. An important stimulus has been EU support for collaborative programmes on biology of ageing. At the national level, several European countries have seen the establishment of the first research centres on ageing. These developments have proved the possibility of beginning to understand intrinsic ageing process and led to important discoveries including identification of candidate compounds that delay some aspects of the ageing process. This progress needs to be expanded in order to deliver a coherent scientific understanding as it occurs in humans and other animal species that will result in:

  • A deep understanding of the mechanisms of ageing;
  • Biomarkers of ageing;
  • Identification of longevity assurance genes;
  • Identification of how environmental effects are generated;
  • Development of successful healthy ageing strategies;
  • Extension of healthy human life expectancy;
  • Improved links of biogerontology to other disciplines and the industry.

By comparison with the US, European funding for research on biology of ageing is a much lower fraction of the research spending of health overall. The report argues the case to increase proportional spending on ageing research across Europe to match the US level within the next 5-10 years. This would allow Europe to achieve urgent goals:

Creating adequate critical mass at a national scale by:

  • Construction of national focused research networks
  • Establishment of National Centres of Excellence/Institutes of Ageing
  • Training and education at the national level

Capacity building at the European level by:

  • Networking within the EU
  • Establishment of European Centres of Excellence
  • International education

Developing the synergistic links of ageing research by:

  • Increased overlap between research on ageing and age-related diseases
  • Stronger relations to the industry
  • Better communication strategies for the public

European ageing research is at a critical position. The proposed changes will propel European research on the intrinsic biology of ageing into the internationally competitive position that be necessary to improve health span and result in successful economic exploitation of a range of major opportunities.

Biology panel members:

Peter Csermely
Semmelweiss University, Hungary

Thomas von Zglinicki
Newcastle University, UK

Efstathios Gonos
Hellenic Research Institute, Greece

Eline Slagboom
University of Leiden, Netherlands

Ewa Sikora
Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Poland