'Ageing' centre rejected

January 12, 1996

The great and good of the world of ageing research have rejected calls for a national research centre in gerontology.

At a meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine last month, 60 senior people representing groups such as researchers, industry, carers and the aged, welcomed the idea of a network to help coordinate research - but rejected setting up a centre that would do research.

The meeting was called after the Government's Technology Foresight programme made ageing a priority area for research and suggested that there might be a need for such a centre. John Green, RSM chief executive, and colleagues published a paper last summer saying that ageing research was uncoordinated, underfunded and sometimes duplicated.

There are also fears that the United Kingdom has no representative body that can take part in international discussions about the problems of ageing populations. However, the convenors of the meeting - the RSM, the Royal College of Physicians and the charity Research into Ageing - decided beforehand not to discuss such a centre as the delegates would never reach agreement.

Kay Tee Khaw, professor at the clinical gerontology unit in Cambridge, said this week: "It seems silly to start building more infrastructures. It would produce a whole new layer of bureaucracy."

A national centre that did research would lead to a centrally dictated ageing research policy which could suffocate research: "Research is getting too centralised already. We want diversity and lots of groups working in the area."

Others acknowledged that universities would not be able to agree on where the centre should be sited.

But the meeting did agree basic principles about the future of ageing research, including the need for a national network "to coordinate research into all aspects of ageing".

Professor Khaw said that there were plenty of cohort studies going on but they all suffered from the insecurity of never having more than a year or two of funding.

The group hopes to win money from the Government's Technology Foresight programme to set up a national partnership for ageing research. But the Medical Research Council has also submitted a bid, competing for the same money. It has joined forces with SmithKline Beecham, BUPA and Westminster Health Care to bid for Pounds 4 million to establish Age-Net, a multi-disciplinary research network on ageing and disability in the elderly.

Some Pounds 3.5 million of the money would be spent on Age-Gene, a project to search for genes relevant to maintaining good mental health.

The Department of Health and the Economic and Social Research Council has put together the bid.

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