UCL Division of Biosciences



Earlier research on the Biology of Ageing at UCL

UCL has a long tradition of thought leadership in the biology of ageing. The original evolutionary theory of ageing (the mutation accumulation theory) was initially conceived here by R.A. Fisher (1890-1962) and J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964), and elaborated by Peter Medawar (1915-1987).

J.B.S. Haldane

Work on the biology of ageing more broadly blossomed under Alex Comfort (1920-2000), one of the founders of modern biogerontology, and author of the highly influential "Ageing -The Biology of Senescence" (1956, 1964).

Alex Comfort
Peter Medawar

The birth of the Institute of Healthy Ageing at UCL

The idea of a research centre for fundamental biogerontological research arose from a desire to integrate insights from model organisms. The goal was to identify mechanisms of ageing that are evolutionarily conserved between nematodes (C. elegans, David Gems), fruitflies (Drosophila melanogaster, Sally Leevers and Linda Partridge) and the mouse (Dominic Withers), and therefore likely to operate in humans.

This led to the founding of the UCL Centre for Research on Ageing in 2003, supported by a multi-lab programme grant from the Wellcome Trust.

Dame Linda Partridge

The idea of an Institute of Healthy Ageing was based on a more ambitious vision, and the belief that a mature understanding of ageing as a process was imminent that would allow the field to fulfil its potential: to understand the etiologies of a broad spectrum diseases of ageing, and develop protective therapies against them.

David Gems

Our vision was a cross-faculty entity to allow integration of research on ageing and diseases of ageing across UCL. The membership of the original steering committee gives an indication of this ambition.

Professor Leon Fine (Dean of Clinical Sciences)

Dr David Gems (Biology)

Professor Bob Lieberman (Anatomy & Developmental Biology)

Professor Peter Mobbs (Dean of Life Sciences)

Professor Linda Partridge (Biology) - Committee Chairman

Dr Mary Phillips, Director of Research Planning (Biomedicine)

Professor Mike Spyer (Vice Provost for Biomedicine)

Professor Patrick Vallance (Head of Division of Medicine)

Professor Dominic Withers (Medicine)

The IHA was established in 2007, under the directorship of Linda Partridge and with support from the Wellcome Trust (Strategic Award), including funding for infrastructure improvements that generated the present IHA space in the Darwin Building.

patrick valance

Recent history

Since its founding the IHA has continued to grow into its present vibrant, collaborative community of researchers, currently including nine research groups. In 2019 the running of the IHA passed from Linda Partridge to Jürg Bähler (Director) and David Gems (Research Director). The IHA's grand aspiration of integration of research on ageing across UCL, however, remains to be fulfilled.

While UCL is one of the world centres for research on fundamental mechanisms of ageing, and on ageing-related diseases, the work remains fragmented and scattered among the different research departments and institutes. However, the critical work of understanding ageing has continued to progress within the IHA, and the goal of a synthesis of biogerontology and individual disease research continues to be pursued.

The last 10 years have seen remarkable transformations within the ageing field, that have brought a mature understanding of ageing within reach. Watch this space.