University research fronts national ageing campaign

Richard Aspinall
Richard Aspinall

Cranfield University’s research into slowing the effects of ageing has been selected to front a three-year national Age UK fundraising campaign.

Professor Richard Aspinall is investigating how to make the lives of older people healthier by looking at ways to improve their immune system.

The research looks at a gland called the thymus which produces T cells which protect the body from infection.

As we age, the thymus shrinks in size, weakening our immunity.

Richard has shown that a molecule called Interleukin 7 (IL-7) can reverse the decline of the thymus and effectively kick-start the immune system, so helping older people fight off illnesses such as flu.

Richard said: “It is an honour for our research to be chosen to front this campaign. Ageing affects all of us, so anything that can be done to slow it down or to reduce its impact is attractive to anyone.

“The whole aim of the research is to stop the immune systems from winding down with age.”

The project, which was funded by Age UK in 2008 through its research arm, Research into Ageing, enabled Richard and his team to determine whether injecting, inhaling or taking Interleukin 7 orally was the most effective. They are also trying to find a test that identifies people who would benefit most from the Interleukin 7.

Paul Farthing, director of fundraising at Age UK, said: “We felt that Richard’s research would make a very strong fundraising appeal because he is searching for a clear and tangible way to help boost a declining immune system, a serious problem for thousands of older people. We’re committed to finding solutions to health problems in later life, and this project is an excellent example.”

The campaign aims to help fund pioneering research into diseases and disabilities of later life and encourage people to donate to vital research.