Scientists in the Midlands are to share in a £5m research grant to reduce the pain and disability caused by ageing. They aim to establish what goes wrong with our bones, joints, ligaments and muscles as we age and how diet and exercise interventions could help prevent this age related decline.
The University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham and are to set up one of two new national centres funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Arthritis Research UK.
The MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research will bring together a team of world-class researchers, clinicians and health professionals. They will spend the next five years investigating why musculoskeletal tissue metabolism, function and mass decline with age and will explore the risk factors and biological events involved in these processes. They also want to find out how diet and exercise interventions may offset this deterioration.
Paul Greenhaff, Professor of Muscle Metabolism in the School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Nottingham, said: “We are very excited about this frame shift in ageing research in the UK. The MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research at the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham will focus on how ageing results in loss of musculoskeletal mass and function in humans and use this knowledge to intervene and minimise age-related musculoskeletal decline and disease.
A major focus will be to develop positive exercise and diet interventions. The Centre will bring together exceptional scientists, clinicians and industrial partners to build a world-leading research platform that will generate novel and clinically testable approaches to healthier musculoskeletal ageing.”
Janet Lord, Professor of Immune Cell Biology and Director of the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Healthy Ageing Research, said: “This funding gives us a unique opportunity to bring together basic scientists and clinicians to tackle the detrimental effects of ageing on the musculoskeletal system. We aim to develop novel approaches to preventing age-related physical frailty in our older adults, ensuring that they enjoy rather than endure their old age”
The number of people in the UK over 60 is increasing dramatically and by 2050 will include 40 per cent of the population. Ageing-related decline in the function of musculoskeletal tissues — bones, joints, ligaments and muscles — are major contributors to declining physical function and poorer quality of life in older people including frailty, with its accompanying risk of falling and a poor quality of life.
Currently older people are encouraged to exercise to ensure healthy joints in old age, yet there is a need to identify which exercise regimes are effective and appropriate for the ageing population.
Professor Stephen Holgate, Chair of the MRC Population and Systems Medicine Board said: “We plan to establish two international centres of excellence in research into the causes and mechanisms of musculoskeletal ageing and develop medical interventions that will improve musculoskeletal health.
Poor musculoskeletal health has a significant impact upon quality of life, work productivity and health costs. An estimated 10 million working days are lost through musculoskeletal conditions and the annual cost to the NHS of musculoskeletal decline is £5.7 billion.
Although much is known from human and animal experimental studies about factors that control tissue growth and repair, there is little knowledge on how this can be translated into novel diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic strategies.”
Ten million people in the UK live with the debilitating pain and disability caused by arthritis. The two most important risk factors for developing the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, are obesity and ageing. In 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women aged 16 or over) in England were classified as obese (BMI 30kg/m2 or over).
Research into musculoskeletal ageing supports Arthritis Research UK’s 10 identified goals and broad aims of taking the pain away from sufferers and helping people to remain active. Exploration of the strategic identification of priorities for research into musculoskeletal ageing has been specifically facilitated by Arthritis Research UK and Research into Ageing.
Professor Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK said: “There are 10 million people in the UK who are living with increasing pain and disability which impacts their quality of life. As our population ages, individuals want to remain fully active and physically independent for longer. There is an urgent need to develop simple solutions that can minimise the risk of arthritis and osteoporosis, as well as the muscle weakness and increasing physical frailty that occurs with age.”
A Strategy for Collaborative Ageing Research in the UK has recently been developed within the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme (LLHW), a partnership between the UK research councils and UK health departments. This strategy emphasises the importance of multidisciplinary teams and centres, and cross-sector working, recommending that we “build on existing UK strengths and increase capacity by working collaboratively to address the research challenges and opportunities identified.”
This new centre based in the Midlands will enforce the new framework for collaboration forged between Birmingham and Nottingham last year. The partnership was established to enable two comprehensive research-led universities to work together for mutual success in a range of different areas, including research initiatives, student experience, business engagement and internationalisation.