Singapore population is rapidly ageing - people are living longer, while the birth rate remains low. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 years and above, twice the current ratio. In addition, direct costs of elderly healthcare in Singapore are projected to rise tenfold to more than $66 billion. Given the increased prevalence of age-related disease that accompanies the ageing population, this issue may represent the biggest medical challenge of the 21st century. Put directly, ageing is the common and biggest risk factor for most chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, frailty, most forms of cancer and diabetes.
The Centre for Healthy Ageing will be a multi-disciplinary hub that integrates research and clinical care, providing a holistic strategy to promote healthy living throughout the ageing process, from effective disease prevention in the healthy to novel and compassionate end-of-life care.
A major focus of the Centre is to delay ageing, prolonging disease-free life as well as maintaining high functionality and resilience. The program will improve the quality of life for people as they age and reduce healthcare costs in Singapore with its ageing population. Maximum impact can be achieved by combining novel state-of-the-art strategies to delay the onset of age-related conditions with effective clinical management in the elder population that maximizes life quality. The former strategy involves the development of interventions that exploit the pathways modulating human longevity and testing these interventions using newly identified biomarkers of human ageing, as well as prevention of chronic disease onset. Once approaches are validated, the Centre will develop strategies for implementation in the Singapore population.
To delay ageing and increase human healthspan, prolonging disease-free life and maintaining functionality through leading research in the biology of ageing, development and validation of interventions and novel implementation strategies to extend the healthy lives of Singaporeans.
Our Featured Projects
1) Biology of Ageing
This project is aimed at understanding the molecular underpinnings of the ageing process and developing interventional strategies to delay human ageing and extend healthspan. A combination of animal models and human studies will be employed to better define the molecular pathways that underlie the ageing process. Among these are the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, Sirtuins control of cell senescence and inflammation and events underlying metabolic decline. For instance, the mTOR pathway is one point of convergence and a clinically approved drug inhibiting the TOR kinase, rapamycin, extends murine lifespan and healthspan. It is important to determine when, where and how reduced mTOR signalling leads to enhanced longevity. One emergent theme is that mTOR signalling becomes aberrantly elevated in stem cells, leading to reduced stem cell function with ageing. Rapamycin keeps mTOR activity low and helps maintain tissue regeneration. Expanding our understanding on conserved molecular and cellular mechanism of ageing will be necessary for the diagnosis and development of therapeutics to slow ageing.
2) Development of a Platform of Integrated Biomarkers to Measure Biologic Age
In order to determine whether candidate interventions affect ageing in humans, it is essential to develop biomarkers that accurately assess the rate of biologic ageing. Several biomarkers have been developed that measure aspects of ageing and the goal is to integrate them to get an accurate composite measure of ageing. Candidates include epigenetic measures, inflammatory cytokine panels, microbiome composition changes, 3D facial reconstruction studies, measures of senescent cells and metabolic markers. Many of these employ machine learning and artificial intelligence strategies to optimize predictive capacity. Once developed, these biomarkers will be employed in intervention trials, longitudinal cohorts and other studies related to ageing in Singapore.
3) Healthy Ageing Promotion Programme for You (HAPPY)
HAPPY is a multicomponent intervention that aims to promote healthy ageing to help seniors maintain a healthy body and healthy mind by working together with community partners such as People’s Association, Senior Activity Centres and Faith-based Groups. HAPPY is adapted from Cognicise, a multicomponent exercise programme that aims to stimulate cognitive functions and prevent dementia designed by The National Centre for Geriatrics and Gerontology (NCGG) in Nagoya, Japan. The HAPPY programme is a locally customised version that includes exercise and cognitive tasks of varying intensity combined with healthy ageing advice and nutrition tips. There is no special equipment needed for HAPPY, and senior volunteers will be trained to lead the exercises. HAPPY seeks to delay Physical, Cognitive and Social Frailty. The program inception was in August 2017 and current plans involve a bigger rollout with community centres and other organizations.
4) Generation of Mouse colonies
To stimulate animal studies in the biology of ageing, cohorts of ageing mice will be developed by the Centre that enables researchers throughout NUHS to have access to mice at any age, facilitating studies. These mice could be used for testing of interventions designed to slow ageing, acquisition of longitudinal or cross-sectional data on specific aspects of ageing and others investigator-designed studies. Mice will be scored for frailty with age as well as other parameters relevant to ageing biology.
5) Longevity Cohorts in Singapore –the SG90 and SG60 studies to understand ageing in the Singapore population
A large-scale effort to perform deep phenotyping of elders in Singapore will be supported that seeks to better understand the ageing process and specifically identify unique aspects related to ageing in Singapore. This is particularly relevant since the three major ethnicities in Singapore have been understudied with respect to ageing and information needs to be collected to support healthy ageing in these groups. In addition, there are likely specific aspects of the Singapore environment that may impact ageing. The SG90 cohort involves over 1000 individuals above the age of 90 stratified by health status and their offspring, which includes individuals generally in their sixties, as well as their spouses.
6) Pilot studies in Ageing Research
This program would provide funding support for projects leading to enhanced mechanistic understanding of the biology of ageing and/or development of translational strategies to mitigate ageing and age-related disease. The program will seek to encourage successful investigators to redirect or reimagine their research in the context of ageing, building a core of investigators in the ageing program and dramatically accelerating its growth.
Prof Brian Kennedy
Prof Brian Kennedy is internationally recognized for his research in the basic biology of ageing and as a visionary committed to translating research discoveries into new ways of delaying, detecting, preventing and treating human ageing and associated diseases. He is the Director of the NUHS Centre for Healthy Ageing. He also serves as a Distinguished Professor in Biochemistry and Physiology Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at National University Singapore. The Centre seeks to demonstrate that ageing interventions can be successfully employed in humans to extend healthspan, the disease-free and highly functional period of life.
From 2010 to 2016 he was the President and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing. Currently he remains as a Professor at the Institute, where his lab addresses the biology of ageing. Dr Kennedy has adjunct appointments at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at USC and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Washington, where he was a faculty member from 2001 to 2010. In addition, Dr Kennedy is also actively involved with a number of Biotechnology companies, serving in consulting and Board capacities, and is Scientific Director of Affirmativ Health. In addition, Dr Kennedy serves as a Co-Editor-In-Chief at Ageing Cell. Finally, Dr Kennedy has a track record of interaction in China, where he was a Visiting Professor at the Ageing Research Institute at Guangdong Medical College from 2009 to 2014. His Ph.D. was performed in the laboratory of Leonard Guarente at M.I.T., where he published the first paper linking Sirtuins to ageing. His postdoctoral studies were performed at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre at Harvard Medical School.