Human ageing is a multifactorial process controlled by both environmental and genetic factors. Our mission is to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie the ageing process and that lead to age-related diseases. We hope that eventually this knowledge can contribute to a more healthy ageing of people. The central question we are aiming at answering is
«What are the molecular mechanisms and genetic factors contributing to the evolution of cellular and organismal dysfunction during human aging?».
Significance of research on ageing
Getting old was always a problem that moved people. In the book 'Utopia' by Thomas More, which was published in 1516, we read that the problem of ageing forms an obstacle towards reaching 'paradise on earth': „..... which as it carries many diseases along with it, so it is a disease of itself“. In the industrialized world birth rates are declining and life expectancy increases. This creates the necessity to deal with the consequences of larger numbers of old people in society and also to investigate the process of ageing itself, as well as the diseases that are linked to the ageing process.
Ageing is by and large a complex stochastic process based on genetic contributions as well as environmental influences. The process is still ill-understood. Over the last decades, a deeper understanding of several genetic diseases and of carcinogenesis has been reached. It is justified to expect that the ageing process and the degenerative diseases linked to it are now and will soon be even better accessible to the methodology of modern biological research. In the longer term treatments for degenerative diseases may also be designed based on the improved understanding of ageing and diesease mechanisms.
An important societal goal is healthy ageing. The desire to reach older age in good health and with good mental and physical performance meets numerous obstacles, some of which are already established at a young age. The problem of ageing is thus not limited to senescence, the period of degenerative processes, but is rather a much wider process, whose investigation must address misdevelopments earlier in life. The ultimate goal must be to disrupt the link between age and bad health.
It is quite certain that we do not reach the genetically possible age for a number of reasons (currently proven oldest age is 122 years). To dissect the limiting genetic factors is another important goal which overlaps with the aims mentioned above.
Research focus and contribution of FLI
The overall goal at FLI is the dissection of mechanisms of decisive processes, in particular pathological processes which lead to consequences for health and healthy ageing. Within this broad area, specific topics are chosen that are formally divided into two programmes which are highly interconnected through scientific content and methodology. E.g., in the programme 'Mechanisms of Ageing and Senescence', the stability of the genome is investigated on various levels by several research laboratories. The programme 'Age-associated Diseases' selects defined examples of the age pathology. Currently, mechanisms leading to protein folding diseases (e.g. amyloidoses, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington Chorea) and other neurodegenerative diseases are analyzed by structural biology and by exploiting appropriate in vitro-models as well as animal models. Mechanisms causing organ dysfunction related to ageing (e.g. kidney failure, osteoporosis, immunosenescence) and cancer are investigated as well. The experimental methodology ranges from protein biochemistry, structure analysis and cell culture to animal models of disease.
Current, ongoing research projects are reflected by the topics of our independent research laboratories. One strength of our approach is the exploitation of different, complementing experimental methodologies which range from protein biochemistry, structure analysis, molecular and cell biology in tissue culture to animal models of disease. In addition, concepts and results of our basic research approaches are also translated into studies using patient samples.