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Accelerating ageing research

A mouse in a laboratory (Credit: Flickr/Rick Eh?)

A mouse in a laboratory (Credit: Flickr/Rick Eh?)

Dr Ilaria Bellantuono of the MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Integrated Research into Musculoskeletal Ageing is one of the founders of ShARM (Shared Ageing Research Models), a new, not-for-profit facility aiming to boost research into ageing by encouraging scientists to share resources and information, including the mice they use in research. Here, Ilaria explains what ShARM is and why it is so important for researchers to get involved.

As we age, we become more likely to fall ill. As well as the effect on the individuals, illness in old age puts a great burden on society — a burden that will only get bigger as people live longer.

Research into ageing-associated diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease, is therefore very important. Mice share many of our genes and age in a similar way, so using older mice as ‘models’ for ageing-associated diseases is one of the ways that researchers learn about disease processes and test treatments.

It normally takes about two years for mice to reach old age. Often, these mice have been bred to answer a specific question about a specific disease — a researcher might be interested only in the mouse’s brain, for example. Analysing the information from the mouse’s post-mortem is an important part of the research process. After it has been culled, the rest of the mouse may be discarded, even though other researchers may be able to answer research questions with the other tissues.

We’re trying to change that. ShARM makes it possible for scientists to share tissues and data from aged mice, meaning that fewer mice will be needed overall to do the same amount of research. This also accelerates research because individual scientists can get tissues at a fraction of the time and cost of rearing their own – there will be no need for them to wait two years.

The tissues of the mice that have died already are an excellent resource and we share them through our biorepository, a store of frozen tissues which are available upon request and charged at a small fee. We also keep a database of information about all the ageing mouse colonies that have researchers who are willing to share surplus tissue. In addition, we’re in the process of setting up MiCEPACE — a website for researchers to network and discuss their research, including how to improve the welfare of aged animals and to compare data generated from the shared animals.

We launched ShARM in July 2012 with funding from the Wellcome Trust and hope to be self-sufficient through tissue sales by 2016. ShARM is open to all those working in the field of ageing or interested in aged tissue.

Our hope is that by bringing together the resources and intellect of the ageing research community, ShARM can accelerate research into ageing, as well as reduce the number of animals used in research.

Ilaria Bellantuono

ShARM is funded by the Wellcome Trust and support by the MRC via the MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Integrated Research into Musculoskeletal Ageing and MRC Harwell.

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