News and Events

Conference blog: Anita Morrison-Fokken

Midlands Ageing Forum
BPS Research Seminar Series: Beyond Boundaries: Exploring Psychologies of Ageing
Seminar 2, Positive Ageing: Lifestyles and living well
6th November 2015

Join us to find out what research into healthy ageing involves at a local university.

Open Event aimed at people over the age of 50 interested in healthy ageing.  
 Monday 2nd November 2015, 2:00 - 4:30 pm

The afternoon will consist of:

  • Welcome and introduction by  Dr Carol Holland, ARCHA Director 
  •  Visitors will be split into small groups and will rotate around the room to listen to presentations on aspects of healthy ageing. The presentations will last 10 minutes each with 5 minute Q&A sessions. They will be visual and interactive so that you can get involved.
There is no charge for this event and refreshments will be available throughout the afternoon.

To register for this event, please email the Centre Coordinator, Wendy at w.g.overton@aston.ac.uk with the names of the people who would like to attend.  There will be a limit of 100 attendees so do book early to avoid disappointment. 

ARCHA members of staff are invited to attend the following event.

EIT Health KIC workshop on metabotyping, nutrition and ageing trajectory

16 July 2015 9.30am - 5pm, MB246B, Main Building, Aston University, Birmingham, UK

A workshop for members of the EIT Health KIC consortium and the associated Innostars.
If you wish to attend, please contact Professor Helen R Griffiths on h.r.griffiths@aston.ac.uk or 0121 204 3950 
by 14 July. 

June  Paper of the Month

Senior Lecturer in metabolic medicine and honorary consultant physician at Aston University Dr Srikanth Bellary is also a Clinical Champion for Diabetes UK.  Dr Sri Bellary has developed a unified formulary to ensure equal access to medication for diabetes patients across Birmingham. Find out how he did this on the Diabetes UK website at Diabetes.org.uk.

May  Paper of the Month

Paper in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

Dementia symptoms develop after brain cells are damaged in areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and behaviour. The major risk factor for dementia is age. Higher blood cholesterol levels in mid-life increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in later life. However, lower levels of the cholesterol-carrying high density lipoprotein (HDL) associate with increased risk for AD. HDL is considered “good” because it removes cholesterol from the body.  As HDL transports antioxidants, we have investigated whether antioxidant levels are lower in dementia patients, whether this changes the oxidation and affects the efficiency of cholesterol transport from cells by HDL. In this study we found that AD patients with vascular risk factors have low level of HDL and antioxidants and export of cholesterol to HDL is lower than in healthy control subjects of the same age. This study suggests the importance of improving micro- and macro-nutrient status in older adults.

Plasma Levels of HDL and Carotenoids are Lower in Dementia Patients with Vascular Comorbidities

Dias IH 1 , Polidori MC 2 , Li L 1 , Weber D 3 , Stahl W 4 , Nelles G 5 , Grune T 3 , Griffiths HR 1 .

*Corresponding author: Helen Griffiths: h.r.griffiths@aston.ac.uk

Author affiliation: 1Life and Health Sciences and Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, Aston University, Birmingham, UK.2Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, Heinrich-Heine-University, Duesseldorf, Germany Institute of Geriatrics, University of Cologne, Köln, Germany.3University of Jena, Jena, Germany.4Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, Heinrich-Heine-University, Duesseldorf, Germany.5NeuroMed, MedCampus Hohenlind Cologne, Köln, Germany.

Electronic link: http://iospress.metapress.com/content/043n17244552312t/

April  Paper of the Month

Paper in Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism 

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia affecting around 36 million people worldwide.  The symptoms of the disease are associated with well-characterised patterns of damage in the brain. In addition, metabolic changes in the brains of AD patients, particularly abnormalities in the way the brain utilises sugars such as glucose have been identified decades before these symptoms appear. It is impossible to study such changes in the cells of living patients, and it is difficult to adequately study the disease in animals as they do not naturally develop the condition. Our technique uses human stem cells, that can be turned into brain cells to generate functional models of the brain. Generating functional brain models from these cells will allow us to study AD induced metabolic changes in order to determine how changes in the metabolism of these cells will lead to the neurodegeneration observed in AD.

Amyloid β 1-42 induces hypometabolism in human stem cell-derived neuron and astrocyte networks

Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism advance online publication 8 April 2015; doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2015.58

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Marta A Tarczyluk 1 , David A Nagel 2 , H Rhein Parri 2 , Erin HY Tse 2 , James E Brown 2 , Michael D Coleman 2  
and Eric J Hill
1.    Department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, James Black Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK
2.    Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham, UK

Correspondence: Dr EJ Hill, Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK. E-mail:hillej@aston.ac.uk

Received 29 September 2014; Revised 17 February 2015; Accepted 7 March 2015
Advance online publication 8 April 2015

This study was supported by the Alzheimer's Research UK (PPG2009B-3) (www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/).

 March Paper of the Month 

Paper in BioMed Central Family Practice

This article reports an evaluation of the NHS Health Check in an area of Birmingham. The NHS Health Check is available for anyone aged 40-74 and assesses their risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. It also helps provide support for people who need to make lifestyle changes to help reduce their risk to these conditions. This is particularly relevant to people as they get older because our risk to cardiovascular disease increases as we age.

Be SMART: examining the experience of implementing the NHS Health Check in UK primary care

Rachel Shaw*, Helen M Pattison, Carol Holland
Richard Cooke
* Corresponding author: Rachel L Shaw r.l.shaw@aston.ac.uk

Author Affiliations 
School of Life & Health Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK 

BMC Family Practice 2015, 16:1  doi:10.1186/s12875-014-0212-7

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2296/16/1



The NHS Health Check was designed by UK Department of Health to address increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease by identifying risk levels and facilitating behaviour change. It constituted biomedical testing, personalised advice and lifestyle support. The objective of the study was to explore Health Care Professionals’ (HCPs) and patients’ experiences of delivering and receiving the NHS Health Check in an inner-city region of England.


Patients and HCPs in primary care were interviewed using semi-structured schedules. Data were analysed using Thematic Analysis.


Four themes were identified. Firstly, Health Check as a test of ‘roadworthiness’ for people. The roadworthiness metaphor resonated with some patients but it signified a passive stance toward illness. Some patients described the check as useful in the theme, Health check as revelatory. HCPs found visual aids demonstrating levels of salt/fat/sugar in everyday foods and a ‘traffic light’ tape measure helpful in communicating such ‘revelations’ with patients. Being SMART and following the protocol revealed that few HCPs used SMART goals and few patients spoke of them. HCPs require training to understand their rationale compared with traditional advice-giving. The need for further follow-up revealed disparity in follow-ups and patients were not systematically monitored over time.


HCPs’ training needs to include the use and evidence of the effectiveness of SMART goals in changing health behaviours. The significance of fidelity to protocol needs to be communicated to HCPs and commissioners to ensure consistency. Monitoring and measurement of follow-up, e.g., tracking of referrals, need to be resourced to provide evidence of the success of the NHS Health Check in terms of healthier lifestyles and reduced CVD risk. 

Older Driver 

Older drivers who lack confidence on the road could benefit from a new training plan being developed by researchers at Aston University.

The project will target older drivers’ ability to pay attention to different locations when moving at speed – known as their ‘attentional switching flexibility’. As people age, this ability, essential for safe driving, can slow down, with serious implications for drivers and others on the road.

Although older drivers are reported to have fewer collisions and pose a lower safety risk to other road users than other age groups, it is known they are much more likely to suffer from a lack of attentional switching flexibility, which can severely affect their confidence. Aston researchers believe the extra time it takes older people to shift their attention from one thing to another may be a major source of this problem, and have developed a new training plan to tackle the issue.

A team, led by Dr Carol Holland, Director of the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences, will test participants with a series of visual prompts designed to gradually increase the speed at which they can focus their attention. They will then be placed in a driving simulator and asked to tackle difficult traffic situations such as at virtual roundabouts and road intersections. 

Their performance on the simulator will be measured over a period of time to assess the degree of their improvement. 

Dr Holland said: “Many older drivers give up driving because of concerns about their safety and a general loss of confidence on the road. We hope to be able to keep them on the road for longer because they tend not to be bad drivers at all – far from it. The issue is one of confidence; if this can be built up through a specifically-designed training programme such as the one we are developing, it will improve the safety not only of older drivers, but of other road users as well.

“No one has studied the impact of attentional switching costs on the proficiency of older drivers before. We want to change the untrue stereotype of older drivers as unsafe and help enable them to feel more confident and competent on the road.”

Delaying the point when people give up driving could have significant general health benefits. Early driver cessation is often a precursor of depression and isolation. Loss of independent mobility is also associated with ‘life space constriction’, which is linked to frailty and loss of independence.

It is also known that maintaining or increasing the proportion of older drivers on the roads in any area or region has a positive influence on the road transport environment and overall incident frequency.

A recent RAC study estimated that of the 500,000 drivers who turned 70 in 2013 in the UK, 170,000 of them will give up driving before they need to.

The project is part funded by the Rees Jeffreys road fund as a PhD studentship and will be conducted in collaboration with Professor Klaus Kessler of the Aston Brain Centre

For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or j.garbett@aston.ac.uk

Paper published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B
Bioactive Organic-Inorganic Hybrids with Improved Mechanical Performance

Human tissue including both soft tissue (e.g. skin) and hard tissue (e.g. bones) are continuously remodelled and regenerated throughout our lifetime. However, as we age our bodies’ ability to repair and regenerate significantly reduces. Healing in older adults can be particularly slow due to reduced cellular activity. As we age our bones become brittle and weaker and reduced bone density can be problematic for post-menopausal women. Consequently bone is the most widely transplanted material with the exception of blood. It is therefore very important to develop new and improved biomaterials for bone regeneration. Effective implant biomaterials can help tissue regenerate and significantly improve the quality of life of older adults in later life. Recently there has been a change in philosophy moving away from traditional materials (e.g. large metal plates that are inserted for life) towards developing new smart biomaterials that can help the body self-heal and eventually become absorbed and replaced by the body. Solid glass particles containing calcium and phosphorous (the main building blocks of bone) are now used widely clinically to treat small bone defects (e.g. orthopaedic bone grafting in non-load bearing sites, ossicular replacement, head and neck surgery, tooth root implants). The latest drive is to mimic nature by developing highly porous scaffolds which enhance blood flow and cell ingrowth to increase the rate of healing. However these materials are usually mechanically weak. Dr Richard Martin (ARCHA & EAS) in collaboration with colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Science have developed novel sol-gel polymer hybrids for bone replacement applications with vastly improved mechanical properties whilst still maintaining this porosity. A key feature of this work was ensuring that the organic and inorganic phases are strongly bonded together to stop the polymer from rapidly washing out from the hybrid which would reduce the strength. The work was recently published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B; full details can be found at http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2014/tb/c4tb01776e#!divAbstract

The work was supported by ARCHA and a Royal Society/Natural Science Foundation of China international exchange grant (IE131323, 513111170).

ARCHA staff awarded European funding 
Dr Carol Holland and a team from ARCHA including colleagues from psychology, biology and computer science have been awarded funding from the European 3 rd  Health programme in collaboration with European colleagues from Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. The project is to extend the work of the European Innovation Partnership on Active & Healthy Ageing in the subtopic of Frailty and Cognitive Decline. The title of the two year programme is “Frailty Management Optimisation through EIP AHA Commitments and Utilisation of Stakeholders input”, or “FOCUS”. 

Excellent Different Distinctive