Today people can look forward to longer lifespans than ever before. In the UK, life expectancy at birth has doubled in the last two hundred years, and the oldest old, those over one hundred years, are the fastest-growing segment of our society. However, many older people experience a decline in quality of life in the later years, resulting from a generalised loss of abilities and from the diseases associated with chronological age. The consequence of this is that a significant proportion of their total life course may be affected by loss of independence, isolation and suffering.
Medical research should be aimed at helping these people, both alleviating their suffering and addressing its causes.
But the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, in a 2005 report concluded that. “Older people are disproportionately affected by many specific diseases and sensory impairments, and the expenditure directed at these diseases appears to be far lower than would be expected”. Further, much existing biomedical research is directed at minimising disease symptoms, rather than addressing causes. This palliative work has vastly improved the lives of many and will continue to be a vital area of effort. However, in the case of the ailments of old age, when symptoms are addressed the ongoing ageing process itself continues to increase the physiological damage underlying the disease, making it inevitable that this type of intervention will eventually be overwhelmed.
Basic biochemical research seeks to elucidate the workings of biological systems, thereby producing an invaluable body of knowledge about how we age at the molecular and cellular level. Great strides have been made in this field in recent years, and the research discipline called Biogerontology is well respected. Yet, acquiring this important information does not of itself improve human health. There is a gap between discovering the nature of ageing and incorporating that knowledge into medical practice.
The Biogerontology Research Foundation seeks to fill this gap within the research community, whereby the current scientific understanding of the ageing process is not yet being sufficiently exploited to produce effective medical interventions.
The BGRF will fund research which, building on the body of knowledge about how ageing happens, will develop biotechnological interventions to prevent or remediate the molecular and cellular deficits which accumulate with age and which underlie the ill-health of old age. Addressing ageing damage at this most fundamental level will provide an important opportunity to produce the effective, lasting treatments for the diseases and disabilities of ageing that are required to improve quality of life in the elderly. We seek to use the entire scope of modern biotechnology to attack the changes that take place as we age, and to address not just the symptoms of age-related diseases but also the mechanisms of those diseases.
The BGRF will actively pursue and encourage projects identified by its scientific team as key to these goals. The science of the projects will be screened by a Scientific Advisory Board consisting of world-class researchers in biogerontology and related fields, in consultation with external experts as appropriate. Although these projects may be long term in nature, they will be designed to generate interim results and products that create academic and commercial interest, thereby bringing further resources into play and accelerating progress. As a key component of this strategy, The BGRF will seek appropriate Intellectual Property protection to encourage industry to apply the results of our projects quickly. Our long-term goal is to provide medical practitioners with the tools they need to enable effective and lasting remedies for the illnesses and disabilities of old age.
This is not a task for a single discipline. The BGRF will further seek to promote progress by encouraging collaboration between researchers in different fields, by encouraging graduates to specialise in applying research in this area, as well as using seminars and conferences to encourage researchers to present their work and consider the work of others.
Our vision is a world where each individual has the opportunity to live their later years in full health and vigour.