In total, 28 universities will collaborate to create 11 new networks, funded with £2 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
As part of their research efforts, the networks will also include working with the public, industry, charities, policymakers and health practitioners to translate findings into policy, public health and new therapies.
Queen Mary was successful in receiving funding for two different networks. The first, known as CELLO (An interdisciplinary ageing alliance: cellular metabolism over a life-course in socioeconomic disadvantaged populations), aims to address the inequalities in healthy ageing, looking at biological causes. It will be led by Director Dr Sian Henson and Co-Director Dr Li Chan from Queen Mary, with co-investigators and partners at University of Liverpool, London School of Tropical Medicine, University of Birmingham and Newcastle University.
Together, the team will investigate how metabolic dysfunction of ageing cells is dictated by both intrinsic (genetic) and extrinsic (environmental) factors from an early age. The network’s research will focus specifically on disadvantaged populations to narrow the gap of health inequality. They will look to understand changes in metabolism at a cellular level as people age, given that they already know this is a key biological factor underpinning the inequality in healthy ageing in these disadvantaged groups. By understanding these changes and why they take place, they can better identify ways to overcome the barriers that exist.
Dr Sian Henson, Reader in Immunology at Queen Mary and Director of Cello said: “The aim of the network is to address the biological cause for healthy ageing inequality by forming an alliance with other areas in England that also have similar levels of socioeconomic deprivation, yet differing in ethnicity, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Leicester.
“By bringing in an interdisciplinary group of members we will be able to investigate the relationship between cellular metabolism and inequality.”
Dr Li Chan, Reader in Molecular Endocrinology and Metabolism at Queen Mary and Co-Director of CELLO said: “Biological disadvantage can start early in life, even before birth which dictates future health and ageing. We can only understand this complex relationship by working together as an interdisciplinary alliance. In this way we hope to unravel some of the root causes and ways we can tackle these in the future.”
The second network, involving Queen Mary’s Dr Matthew Caley, will aim to create a worldwide understanding of how ageing is influenced by skin bacteria. Known as Skin Microbiome in Healthy Ageing (SMiHA), the group will look to fill the knowledge gap that exists in the role of skin microbiome in ageing, despite the gut microbiome being an extensively researched area. Led by the University of Bradford, the team will examine how changes in the composition of the skin microbiome reflect acceleration or deceleration of the ageing process and age specific disorders.
The research and findings of the groups will have significant real-world value. Skin conditions are the most frequent reason for consultation in general practice. They also result in a loss of independence in the elderly and strain health services.
Dr Matthew Caley, Lecturer in Cell Biology at Queen Mary said: “Everyone involved in this network – from universities to industry and healthcare practitioners – hopes to address a key societal issue and improve the quality of life in old age while tackling health inequalities.
“I am excited by the prospect of various different branches of expertise and knowledge coming together to deliver impactful research that will add to our understanding of ageing and make a difference for millions of people.”