Max Planck Fellow Slagboom

Molecular Epidemiology: Exciting approaches to ageing research

Why do people age at different rates? The aim of our research is to understand the molecular mechanisms that influence human ageing. We focus on factors that have been identified in long-lived humans and can be used as hallmarks of healthy ageing.

Why do some people survive into their nineties and can still ride their bikes, while others age faster in poor health? Research on ageing at molecular epidemiology links clinical studies to biobanking and biology. We aim to understand the mechanisms determining the rate and nature of human ageing across the lifecourse, the increasing susceptibility to disease that goes along with it and, alternatively, the factors that promote healthy ageing. We focus in this context on determinants and biomarkers of metabolic health and disease (including cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis) and established strong collaborations between the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing.

Our collaboration focuses firstly on genetic leads from studies into healthy ageing and longevity. To achieve unprecedented findings in humans, we study descendants of long-lived families identified in historical datasets and cohort studies. Since 2002 we follow 3500 individuals in the Leiden Longevity Study, based on living siblings of ages above 89 years, their offspring and controls. This study is a unique source of biological samples and data on the genetics and biomarkers of human ageing. In collaboration with a diversity of (inter)national biobanks we integrate these ageing studies across the lifespan. Data on physical, cognitive health and lifestyle parameters is combined with serum parameters, genetics, (epi)genomics, imaging and metabolomics data generated by state-of-the-art-omics technologies. Cell biological studies include primary skin fibroblasts, peripheral blood mononuclear cells and mesenchymal stem cells.

MPI-LUMC collaborations also focus on lifestyle interventions and biomarker profiles. Leads can be tested in our patient, population- and family-based studies  such as osteoarthritis in middle age (the GARP study), elderly (Leiden 85+ Study) and populations exposed to adverse prenatal conditions (The Dutch Hungerwinter cohort).

We were able to create the benchmarks for the use of human samples in ageing research, and provide new methodological approaches and insight into interventions that promote healthy ageing, novel biomarker profiles to classify elderly patients, and monitoring of responses to therapeutic or lifestyle interventions.

Max Planck Fellow Programme

The Max Planck Fellow Programme promotes cooperation between outstanding university professors and Max Planck Society researchers. Besides their chair at the university, they receive an additional working group at a Max Planck Institute.

Go to Editor View