Institute applies research expertise to meet global developmental challenges

Institute applies research expertise to meet global developmental challenges

The Institute has been successful in securing funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to support the development of a range of projects where the Institute’s strengths in fundamental biology and ageing research can be utilised to address the needs of developing countries and promote improved welfare and economic growth.
Understanding the biological basis of healthy ageing is an increasingly relevant issue for developing countries as their population structure is changing, trending towards ageing populations by 2050 on all continents, except Africa. While the impact of age-associated decline in health is a challenge for developed countries, it is a far more significant problem for developing nations due to their reduced capacity to manage the increasing healthcare demand associated with an ageing population, which is further enhanced in developing countries due to the greater prevalence of infectious diseases.  
An ageing population is also an important economic concern for developing nations as a larger proportion of persons over 65 years old are in the workforce than developed nations (World Population Ageing 1950-2050): over 50% in Africa, approximately 40% in Asia and Latin America compared with less than 1% in some developed nations (statistics from 2000; World Population Ageing 1950-2050). Thus, the development of strategies to promote healthy ageing will enhance the functional capacity of older individuals in developing nations, thereby reducing the demand for medical care and potentially increasing the number of older individuals contributing to the economy. Furthermore, understanding the mechanisms underpinning lifelong health in these populations allows the identification of opportunities for intervention when those mechanisms are influenced by challenging environments and cause disease.
Focusing on creating capacity and capability strengthening in developing countries, building partnerships and fostering research excellence, the GCRF Impact Acceleration Award (IAA) funding to the Institute will lay the foundations for the following initiatives:

  • Application of Michelle Linterman’s research on human ageing and vaccine responses to identify how vaccines can be made more effective, thereby overcoming poor responses to vaccination in the older population.
  • Investigation of immune response of African children to the leading malaria vaccine with a view to improving vaccination effectiveness. This project will share the expertise of the Linterman group in profiling the immune system with researchers in Tanzania.
  • Exploration of the potential role of targeting autophagy as a protective mechanism against malaria by Nicholas Ktistakis working in collaboration with researchers in India. 
  • Use of a technique developed by Anne Corcoran to investigate the underlying biological reasons for impaired immune responses relevant to the long-term management of HIV patients. This understanding could improve the management of millions of HIV patients in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Extension of Klaus Okkenhaug’s work on the central role of the PI3kinase enzyme in immunity. Working with collaborators in Brazil, the groups will explore the potential for PI3K inhibitors to alleviate inflammation and infection associated with pathogens that affect developing countries, including malaria, streptococcal diseases and Leishmania.
  • Further collaborative work by Patrick Varga-Weisz on understanding the dynamic genome in the ageing gut. An existing collaboration with Brazilian labs will be widened to understand the immune and gut systems in developing nations to enable robust responses to challenges such as poor diet and repeated infection, leading to conditions such as tropical enteropathy, a disease of the intestine.
  • Use of research on age- and diet-related effects on maternal fertility by Gavin Kelsey and his collaborators in Jordan to inform public policy on the impact of the adoption of Western diets in developing nations, rising levels of obesity particularly in the Middle East, and increased take-up of assisted reproduction technologies as women delay motherhood.
  • Sharing of the systems biology expertise of Nicolas Le Novère and his group to provide training in mathematical modelling to researchers in Turkey in order to understand the influence of diet on ageing and immunological performance with age.

Professor Michael Wakelam, Director of the Babraham Institute, commented: “The opportunities provided by the GCRF funding to the Institute will allow us to further extend the impact of our existing BBSRC support to reach developing countries and by exchange and collaboration to promote their economic development and welfare.
“The Institute has a long history of knowledge exchange and sharing our research expertise with partners from across the globe. Our existing relationships in Brazil and Jordan will allow us to rapidly pilot new initiatives to identify the most effective approaches to pursue as we establish new relationships in other developing countries, such as Uganda, Kenya and India.”
The Global Challenges Research Fund (£1.5 billion) was established by the UK Government to identify opportunities where the UK’s research expertise can be applied to address the challenges faced by developing countries.


World Population Ageing 1950-2050, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations