Midlands scientists to play key role in keeping us fit and well as we age

12 Jan 2012 13:00:44.930

PA 08/12

Scientists in the Midlands are to share in a £5m research grant to reduce the pain and disability caused by ageing. They aim to establish what goes wrong with our bones, joints, ligaments and muscles as we age and how diet and exercise interventions could help prevent this age related decline.

The University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham and are to set up one of two new national centres funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Arthritis Research UK.


The MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research will bring together a team of world-class researchers, clinicians and health professionals. They will spend the next five years investigating why musculoskeletal tissue metabolism, function and mass decline with age and will explore the risk factors and biological events involved in these processes. They also want to find out how diet and exercise interventions may offset this deterioration.

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Paul Greenhaff, Professor of Muscle Metabolism in the School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Nottingham, said: “We are very excited about this frame shift in ageing research in the UK. The MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research at the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham will focus on how ageing results in loss of musculoskeletal mass and function in humans and use this knowledge to intervene and minimise age-related musculoskeletal decline and disease.

A major focus will be to develop positive exercise and diet interventions. The Centre will bring together exceptional scientists, clinicians and industrial partners to build a world-leading research platform that will generate novel and clinically testable approaches to healthier musculoskeletal ageing.”

Janet Lord, Professor of Immune Cell Biology and Director of the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Healthy Ageing Research, said: “This funding gives us a unique opportunity to bring together basic scientists and clinicians to tackle the detrimental effects of ageing on the musculoskeletal system. We aim to develop novel approaches to preventing age-related physical frailty in our older adults, ensuring that they enjoy rather than endure their old age”

The number of people in the UK over 60 is increasing dramatically and by 2050 will include 40 per cent of the population. Ageing-related decline in the function of musculoskeletal tissues — bones, joints, ligaments and muscles — are major contributors to declining physical function and poorer quality of life in older people including frailty, with its accompanying risk of falling and a poor quality of life.

Currently older people are encouraged to exercise to ensure healthy joints in old age, yet there is a need to identify which exercise regimes are effective and appropriate for the ageing population.

Professor Stephen Holgate, Chair of the MRC Population and Systems Medicine Board said: “We plan to establish two international centres of excellence in research into the causes and mechanisms of musculoskeletal ageing and develop medical interventions that will improve musculoskeletal health.

Poor musculoskeletal health has a significant impact upon quality of life, work productivity and health costs.  An estimated 10 million working days are lost through musculoskeletal conditions and the annual cost to the NHS of musculoskeletal decline is £5.7 billion.

Although much is known from human and animal experimental studies about factors that control tissue growth and repair, there is little knowledge on how this can be translated into novel diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic strategies.” 

Ten million people in the UK live with the debilitating pain and disability caused by arthritis. The two most important risk factors for developing the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, are obesity and ageing. In 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women aged 16 or over) in England were classified as obese (BMI 30kg/m2 or over).

Research into musculoskeletal ageing supports Arthritis Research UK’s 10 identified goals and broad aims of taking the pain away from sufferers and helping people to remain active. Exploration of the strategic identification of priorities for research into musculoskeletal ageing has been specifically facilitated by Arthritis Research UK and Research into Ageing.

Professor Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK said: “There are 10 million people in the UK who are living with increasing pain and disability which impacts their quality of life. As our population ages, individuals want to remain fully active and physically independent for longer. There is an urgent need to develop simple solutions that can minimise the risk of arthritis and osteoporosis, as well as the muscle weakness and increasing physical frailty that occurs with age.”

A Strategy for Collaborative Ageing Research in the UK has recently been developed within the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme (LLHW), a partnership between the UK research councils and UK health departments. This strategy emphasises the importance of multidisciplinary teams and centres, and cross-sector working, recommending that we “build on existing UK strengths and increase capacity by working collaboratively to address the research challenges and opportunities identified.”

This new centre based in the Midlands will enforce the new framework for collaboration forged between Birmingham and Nottingham last year. The partnership was established to enable two comprehensive research-led universities to work together for mutual success in a range of different areas, including research initiatives, student experience, business engagement and internationalisation.

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Notes to editors



For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century




Arthritis Research UK is the leading authority on arthritis in the UK, conducting scientific and medical research into all types of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. It is the UK’s fourth largest medical research charity and the only charity solely committed to funding high quality research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. For more information please visit:



The University of Birmingham is a truly vibrant, global community and an internationally-renowned institution. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than four thousand international students from nearly 150 different countries.

The University is home to approximately 28,000 students. With more than 7,500 postgraduate students from across the world, Birmingham is one of the most popular universities for postgraduate study in the UK.

The University is the eighth largest employer in the Birmingham/Solihull sub-region and plays an integral role in the economic, social and cultural growth of local and regional communities; working closely with businesses and organisations, employing approximately 6,000 staff and providing 10,000 graduates annually.

The University contributes £662 million to the City of Birmingham and £779 million to the West Midlands region, with an annual income of more than £462 million.


The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. For more details, visit:



More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

More news from the University at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Paul Greenhaff, on +44 (0)115 823 0133, paul.greenhaff@nottingham.ac.uk; or Jenni Ameghino at the University of Birmingham, on +44 (0)121 4158134, j.ameghino@bham.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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