Dunedin Study receives £1.4m award to explore midlife aging

Study aims to fill the gap in knowledge by examining aging during midlife and its potential for intervention.

The Dunedin Study, a long-term research project following the lives more than a thousand individuals since their birth in the 1970s, has been granted £1.4m in funding from the UK’s Medical Research Council. The study aims to investigate the reasons behind varied aging rates among individuals and explore potential preventive measures during midlife.

The newly funded phase of the study will focus on eight distinct aging domains: biological aging, functional aging, facial aging, social aging, sexual aging, inflammatory aging, microvascular aging, and cognitive aging. By assessing the rate of aging in each participant across these domains, researchers hope to gain valuable insights into the aging process during midlife.

The Dunedin Study has followed the lives of 1037 babies born between 1 April 1972 and 31 March 1973 at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital, Dunedin, New Zealand, since their birth. The research aims to create a unique and comprehensive dataset by studying aging as a process of change over time. Unlike aging studies that enroll participants beyond midlife, the Dunedin Study aims to fill the gap in knowledge by examining aging during midlife and its potential for intervention.

To achieve this, the study will include a cross-faculty team from King’s College London, comprising Professor Terrie Moffitt and co-investigators Professor Dag Aarsland and Dr Richard Siow. They will collaborate on analyzing the pace of aging in various aspects, including the investigation of changes in functional neural connectivity and clinical brain structure over a seven-year period since the previous imaging conducted at age 45.

The study will also explore the relationship between fast-aging individuals and accelerated brain aging. Through a second wave of neuroimaging at age 52, researchers aim to examine whether those aging rapidly also exhibit accelerated brain aging. This could provide valuable insights into the connection between overall aging and brain health.

“This award from the MRC represents 21 years of MRC investment in the longitudinal Dunedin Study,” said Prof Moffitt, associate director of the study. “MRC joins with the New Zealand Health Research Council and the American National Institute on Aging to support this 5-decade cohort. We are all super excited to see the 1000 study members again on their 52nd birthdays!”

The Dunedin Study’s focus on midlife is potentially significant because it offers an opportunity for individuals to make lifestyle changes and implement preventive measures to enhance the aging process positively. By better understanding midlife aging, researchers hope to develop strategies that promote healthy aging and potentially delay age-related decline.

“We are delighted that this MRC award highlights the multidisciplinary nature of ageing research across King’s and enhances our global partnerships,” said Dr Siow, Director of Aging Research at King’s College London. “The research builds on the foundations of the high-profile Dunedin Study to better understand the pace of ageing through a community life course approach.”