Sustaining an ageing population

The Office of National Statistics predicts that in the UK by 2034, 23% of the population will be aged 65 and over compared to 18% under 16. The United Nations World Population Ageing 2050 Report states that by 2050 21% of the world’s population will be over 60.

One of the greatest challenges facing
healthcare, and society in general, in the 21st century is developing new treatments and interventions for dealing with an ageing population. The need to sustain this population demands a new approach from science.

As people live longer, their medical needs change. Academic researchers and health care
professionals from across the UK and Europe are working together with the aim of discovering new ways of treating conditions associated with ageing and developing strategies that people can adopt now to help to prevent the onset of age related diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Aston University is at the forefront of such collaborative research. It has a dedicated, ageing
research centre that takes a multidisciplinary approach. Aston Research Centre for Healthy
Ageing (ARCHA)
is asking how technological, therapeutic and psychosocial strategies can be employed to both understand and prevent agerelated decline.

This type of research is possible thanks to the unique combination of expertise in Aston
University. Aston academics from biology, ophthalmology, pharmacy, engineering, polymer
chemistry, psychology, social science and economics are working together to address
questions that are relevant to all aspects of the lives of our ageing population.

Dr Roslyn Bill, Director of ARCHA, explains: ‘Our mission is to facilitate research that helps us to understand, predict and prevent age-related degeneration. Our Centre has a specific focus on the eye, the mind, the metabolism and healing.

“We have already made a number of breakthroughs via our multidisciplinary research. For example, the most widely used drug for managing insulin resistance in the treatment of diabetes was discovered at Aston, and we have recently developed a new way of taking medication that avoids the need to swallow large pills, a particular problem for elderly patients. We have also developed implantable lenses that can restore focus in ageing eyes.

“We have created a world first here at Aston, a new type of hydrogel, which once injected as a liquid into the spine, expands to form a flexible gel ‘cushion’ that prevents friction between any degraded discs.”

Researchers involved with ARCHA have also taken a major step forward in the treatment of
Parkinson’s Disease. Aston’s Dr Ian Stanford explains: “Evaluating the mechanism by which Deep Brain Stimulation works is a particular focus of our research. This procedure involves the insertion of a metal electrode into the brain, which is then connected to an external battery powered simulator that is placed in the chest wall. At present the most relevant target is a region of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus (STN). The
involvement of the STN in motor functions is well documented, hence its neurosurgical importance for Parkinson’s patients. Research has shown that around seventy per cent of patients who undergo Deep Brain Stimulation surgery will experience some benefit.”

For more information visit the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing (ARCHA) webpages or download issue 1 of Aston Advances.

Aston 100 - Parkinsons disease