LifeSpan - Integrating Research into Development and Ageing

Coordinatd by R. Westendorp, LUMC

FP6-036894 (2007-2011), 6th FP NoE

Although human ageing has many dimensions it is a biological process that we share with nearly all living organisms. If we want to understand ageing we must, therefore, comprehend the broad principles of its biology, since these are the fundaments from which emerge the social and other factors that influence ageing. There is particular importance in addressing the biology of ageing now, at a time when many preconceptions about the ageing process, such as that it is an essentially fixed, ineluctable part of our biological make-up, are being challenged. In line with the continuous increase of our lifespan, present biological thinking reveals that the process is intrinsically far more malleable than most of us have yet appreciated.

The ageing process cannot be understood without considering the entire human life history. Our life span is determined by genetic, environmental and stochastic factors, and growing evidence suggests that events taking place very early in life can determine the biological status of an individual at the end of life. Therefore, it is our intention to bridge research on development with research on ageing, and to integrate these two disciplines that do not have a tradition of close interaction. We will move to and fro between experiments in (in)vertebrate models and observations in humans to test effects detected in one species as candidate longevity mechanism in the other. Combining observational studies in humans with experimentation in model organisms has only been marginally explored and has never been attempted in one collaborative effort.

Several European groups involved in LifeSpan have already begun to probe the yet unexplored field of the research described above. However, fragmentation of these activities in Europe should be avoided and it is crucial that a network emerges in which this research is embedded and that provides the future framework of ageing research. Such a network allows the appropriate questions to be asked, using the most suitable (model) organisms, and taking the appropriate experimental and/or observational approach. This can only be done effectively when the research groups in Europe have the proper expertise and carry out their research in an integrative manner, both in terms of science and organisation, as well as in terms of a common education programme.

All participants have an excellent scientific track-record as well as the appropriate expertise, resources and tools to contribute to the co-ordinated initiative “Integrating research into Development and Ageing”. Moreover, at several occasions we all have expressed our enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the network. Crucially then, LifeSpan will be the working environment needed to formulate the scientific framework, as well as the arena for the development of new resources and tools that are essential to reach European scientific excellence.