Research Concept

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 programme sections which are highly interconnected through scientific content and methodology. E.g., in the section 'Cellular and organismic senescence', the stability of the genome is investigated on various levels by several research groups. In addition, the epigenetic regulation of genes, and the identification of new genes involved in ageing are investigated predominantly by using genomic approaches. The programme section 'Specific 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 groups. 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 clinical studies using patient material. For a recent overview on clinical studies see the current list.


Cranach, Jungbrunnen







CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(born 1472 in Kronach, died 1553 in Weimar)
The Fountain of Youth


Cranach's painting is about the human yearning for immortality and eternal youth. The centre of the scene is a pool filled with water. In the left half of the picture old women are stepping into the water where the gradual process of rejuvenation takes place. To the right, they emerge from the water as young girls and are welcomed by a cavalier who shows them to a tent where they receive new clothes.


Last update: February 21, 2008

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