Battling the grey

In the twilight years, ailments are regular visitors. Wrika Check Hayden reports from an institute that is finding ways to go around this theory.

Erika Check Hayden

doi:10.1038/nindia.2007.10 Published online 3 December 2007

"Don't forget," Robert Hughes reminds a colleague in the hallway, "beer on the landing later to celebrate my impending death." Hughes isn't ill, but rather kicking off festivities for his 45th birthday. And working at the Buck Institute in Novato, California, an independent institute devoted to ageing research, tends to alter the way one thinks about birthdays.

We don't need a National Cancer Institute and a National Institute on Aging in separate buildings.

Their work makes the Buck's 15 principal investigators peculiarly, if playfully, aware that they are adults getting older. But their institute is on the other side of the ageing divide. "It is a toddler becoming a juvenile," says Dale Bredesen, the Buck's director. Youth, like age, has its problems, and after a rough infancy, the Buck has emerged as a player with the potential to change the way people think about ageing.

The Buck was founded on the premise that ageing and disease are manifestations of the same biological processes, and they can be understood only by working across disciplines. It is a modern take, but it has its supporters, including the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 2005, the agency named the Buck as one of five national Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging. And in September, it gave the institute US$25 million to create a new 'interdiscipline' called geroscience: defined as the study of connections between ageing and age-related disease.