The European Research Council (ERC) has announced significant funding for a pioneering project to map how changes in the brain track how we age.
The BrainHealth project, being led by neuroscientist Dr Esther Walton from the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, runs for five years and will seek to unlock the answers to living a long, healthy, and happy life. It is worth €1.5 Million.
Whereas most studies to date have focused on the issue of ageing from the ages 40 or 50 onwards, Dr Walton’s work will take a novel approach looking at the ageing process right across people’s life courses – from birth to death.
In particular it will consider the links between ageing and mental health. A substantial body of research suggests that mental health conditions reduce life expectancy (by up to 20 years), yet less is currently known about what role changes in the brain play in that.
By analysing large sets of longitudinal brain imaging and epigenetic data, the research team hope to understand much more about the factors that impact mental ageing with a view to proposing earlier interventions to allow people to live longer, more fulfilled lives.
The University of Bath is leading this ambitious project, together with collaborators at Cardiff University as well as international colleagues at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and the National Institute of Mental Health (Czech Republic).
In addition to Dr Walton from the Department of Psychology, the University of Bath team involves Professor Andrew Ward from University’s Department of Life Sciences.
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Walton said: “As societies around the world age, we need to find better ways of supporting people to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. This needs a new approach to understand the ageing process right across people’s life course.
“With BrainHealth we will combine data from large European longitudinal cohorts with over 78,000 individuals. This data allows us to track how we age, right from birth onwards. We will also develop an innovative mouse model to tease apart the intersection between physical and mental health.
“In Europe, people aged 65 might live up to half of their remaining years with disability. Our aim is to revolutionise how we consider healthy ageing by finding ways much earlier in life that allow us to detect and alter unhealthy ageing trajectories – a key societal challenge of our time.”
Professor Julie Barnett, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) added: “This is a tremendous opportunity to develop a unique area of research at the University of Bath, drawing on cross-disciplinary expertise in neuroscience, life sciences and in healthy ageing.
"Dr Walton’s project will address a key challenge facing societies around the world: how do we best support an ageing population and how can we best promote healthy ageing. Her results have the potential to be hugely significant and we are delighted that this work has been funded by the ERC.”