Celebration to thank the volunteers who help unravel the mysteries of ageing

11 Dec 2009 11:07:00.000

PA 319/09

For the first time in the UK there are now more people aged over 65 than there are under the age of 18. It is projected that by 2033 the number of people aged 85 and over will reach 3.2 million — accounting for five per cent of the total population.

To help us enjoy our longevity and lead healthier and more active lives as we age, a band of volunteers aged from 18 to 65 and over have been helping The University of Nottingham unravel some of the mysteries of how and why our muscles deteriorate as we grow old — and more importantly — what we can do to hold back the ravages of time. On Monday December 14 2009 at 6.30pm there will be a party at the School of Graduate Entry Medicine and Health in Derby to thank the volunteers for their contribution to what has been discovered so far.   

With grants totalling £2.3m from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Dunhill Medical Trust and Unilever PLC scientists and doctors in the Schools of Graduate Entry Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are studying ways to keep us strong and active in old age. Their work relies on volunteers who are prepared undergo supervised training sessions and detailed health assessments.

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Professor Rennie, a Professor in Clinical Physiology, said: “Our volunteers have helped us to get great results — some very surprising, even ground-breaking. It was the least we could do to thank them by throwing a party for them.” 

With the help of the volunteers initial results from their ‘Active Ageing’ study, funded by the BBSRC, are helping to explain the ongoing loss of muscle in older people: when they eat they don’t build enough muscle with the protein in food; also, the insulin (a hormone released during a meal) fails to shut down the muscle breakdown that rises between meals and overnight. Normally, in young people, insulin acts to slow muscle breakdown. Common to these problems may be a failure to deliver nutrients and hormones to muscle because of a poorer blood supply. Working with a team of volunteers their results suggest that weight training may “rejuvenate” muscle blood flow and help retain muscle for older people.

In studies of the effects of resistance exercise in older men the Derby team have shown that it is possible for the muscle building processes to be effectively rejuvenated by extending the period of exercise and taking a protein supplement immediately after working out. 

Professor Rennie said: “For many of us the effects of muscle loss can be debilitating — we get weaker and more easily tired which increases the increases the risk of falls and fractures which can prevent us leading a normal life and lead to loss of independence — stopping us from doing simple things such as going to the shop or getting out of bed. All these problems put significant demands on family, friends and of course NHS resources.”  

The Active Ageing study still needs volunteers — aged 18 to 28 and 65 and over — who are able to get to a designated gym in Derby three times a week for 20 weeks. The volunteers will also undergo detailed health assessments at the start and end of their trial. These include blood tests, muscle biopsies and a full body scan.

Beth Phillips, a postgraduate assistant and part time PhD student, said: “I am passionate about this research. I am an advocate of resistance exercise and as ageing is something that affects us all this study has wide-reaching significance. Our initial results suggest that there are benefits of regular resistance exercise on maintaining muscle mass, maintaining independence and on improving general health status. Hopefully the work across our unit can encourage more people to adopt an active ageing lifestyle.”

Seventy-five year old Joe Mercer from Derby signed up for the study. He said: “Ten weeks into my training I noticed my improved fitness both when out walking and when doing every day things.” 

For general information regarding the healthy volunteer studies contact Kelly Mitchell on

+44 (0)1332 724687, kelly.mitchell@nottingham.ac.uk 

The party will be held in the café on the ground floor of the School of Graduate Entry Medicine, Royal Derby Hospital, Uttoxeter Road, Derby, DE22 3DT.


— Ends —


Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings. 

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five. 

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Michael Rennie on +44 (0)1332 724 603, michael.rennie@nottingham.ac.uk

Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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