The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and the National University Health System (NUHS) have launched a new study to help Singapore’s rapidly ageing population to live longer and healthier lives. The SG90 Longevity Cohort Study will examine those aged 90 and above to look at biological signatures of healthy ageing. Through studying the underlying biology of ageing, novel ways to extend one’s health span, or the length of time in which one is free of the harmful conditions of old age, can be developed.
As a whole, the world is seeing a trend of longer life expectancy. Combined with a marked decline in fertility rates, the increase in life expectancy is resulting in a rapidly ageing population. Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will double from around 11% to 22%.
Singapore is one of the fastest ageing countries in the world. By 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be aged 65 and older and there will be nearly a million elderly, of whom the vast majority will have at least one medical condition, resulting in reduced autonomy and lower quality of life. The estimated number of elderly who may require assistance with daily living is expected to nearly triple between 2010 and 2030.
Enhancing the health span of the elderly, such that they are free from age-related conditions for a longer time, would significantly mitigate this issue in the long run.
Recognising this need, A*STAR and NUHS have launched the SG90 Longevity Cohort Study. Based on the current population census, an estimated 13,000 are aged 90 and above in Singapore. By looking at a cohort of 1,000 such individuals, the study will identify biomarkers linked to successful ageing. Follow-ups will be spaced closely to track the health of these individuals and understand the processes that lead to the appearance and progression of diseases.
While such studies are already being conducted worldwide, they tend to be of limited genetic diversity and relevance to Asian populations. The SG90 Longevity Cohort Study will be the first longevity cohort study in the world to focus on three major Asian ethnicities, making it representative of half of the world population, and with immediate applications to Singapore’s population. The in-depth clinical phenotyping and biological characterization of the SG90 study creates a unique opportunity to tackle age-related issues.
A*STAR, National University Hospital (NUH), and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have already embarked on a joint study in 2014 to better understand immunosenescence, or age-related loss of immunity. Adopting the same collaborative approach, the SG90 study also synergises clinical and scientific expertise from NUHS with A*STAR’s deep scientific capabilities and resources, to deliver a unique platform examining the biology of ageing in Singapore, for Singaporeans.
A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) and Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) will contribute their established domain knowledge in immunosenescence and cellular ageing, and epigenetics and nutrition, respectively. This will complement ongoing NUHS ageing cohort studies in Singapore, such as the Singapore Longitudinal Ageing Studies (SLAS) and the Singapore Chinese Health Study.
The SG90 study is part of an overarching ageing programme by A*STAR and NUHS, with other cohort studies in the pipeline as well. Through understanding the root causes of ageing, and identifying biomarkers of healthy and unhealthy ageing, pre-emptive solutions to address unhealthy ageing can be developed. The end goal is to empower Singaporeans to live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.
Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman of A*STAR, said, “Addressing the issue of ageing is a key priority for Singapore and A*STAR. A*STAR has made a strategic push towards R&D to support Singapore’s growing senior population, from assistive medical technologies and therapeutics, to the new cohort study. The study will be invaluable in our efforts to develop impactful healthcare solutions and ensure healthy, meaningful lives for the elderly.”
The SG90 Longevity Cohort Study was announced at the Opening Ceremony of the inaugural A*STAR-NUHS Biology of Ageing Conference, which is being held at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel Singapore from 22 to 24 October 2015.