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Oriel professor leads $60m programme to extend “healthy life” spans

World-leading research aimed at improving health into later life is being led by George Moody Fellow at Oriel Professor Lynne Cox. She is leading a $60m programme to extend health spans in humans as Program Director.

In August Cox was also awarded the Lord Cohen Medal by the British Society for Research on Ageing for her “outstanding achievements and contributions to understanding the biology of ageing.”

Jointly funded by Wellcome Leap and Temasek Trust, a global asset management company, the Dynamic Resilience programme aims to underpin research into how to extend health spans by establishing improved methodologies for assessing the ability of individuals to “bounce back” after stress events, such as surgery and illness.

The concept of a health span denotes the duration of time in an individual’s life when they are considered in good health.

While average human life expectancy has doubled over the past century, health spans have not improved to the same extent, Cox said.

For the first time ever, in 2018 the percentage of the population aged 65 years or over exceeded the percentage of the population aged five or below. By 2050 the former percentage could be over double that of the latter one, according to an analysis by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

As a result of global population aging, and along with it a decrease in “dynamic resilience” — a term that refers to the ability of individuals to respond to and cope with stress events — clinical frailty is projected to increase, meaning that when people are ill or injured on average their health will decline more severely.

The Dynamic Resilience programme aims to turn this trend around by decreasing clinical frailty progression by 25%. This could keep 71,000 people out of hospital each year in the US alone, according to one estimate.

Scientists trying to combat health deterioration in clinical trials are held back by a lack of reliable biomarkers for measuring resilience and frailty, Cox explained. “Current frailty scores and indices can provide reasonable predictions of statistical outcomes after a stress event, but not outcomes for an individual.”

The programme aims to change this by identifying and validating health resilience measures and models. The hope is that this will facilitate the development and testing of new interventions to improve health outcomes.