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Biology of vitality and ageing



Semester 1, September 18 2017 till November 10 2017.

Admission requirements

Bachelor degree and admission to Master Vitality & Ageing.


This course will focus on the biological aspects of vitality and healthy ageing. Attention will be paid to repair mechanisms, nutrition, longevity and maintenance of bodily and mental functions and independence. The aim of this course is to develop understanding of the biological mechanisms that underlie ageing and age-related diseases so as to stimulate scientific thinking towards potential interventions aimed at enhancing vitality.

Ageing can be described as “a progressive, generalized impairment of function, resulting in an increasing vulnerability to environmental challenge and a growing risk of disease and death”. Although the pathologies that accompany ageing are diverse and the rate at which it occurs differs widely between species, the universality of the ageing process suggests that common biological mechanisms may be at play. Many of the prevailing proximate theories of ageing centre on the hypothesis that the rate of ageing is determined by an intricate balance between damage accumulation and defence and repair mechanisms. From this hypothesis, it follows that analysis of the mechanisms by which this balance is regulated may reveal the regulatory axes of the ageing process and allow the development of anti-ageing therapeutics. Based on the central concept described above, this course focuses around seven major themes, namely “Damage and repair”, “Neuro-endocrine axes” ,“Environmental cues”, “Towards enhancing vitality”, “A life course perspective”, “Research in human subjects: methods and tools” and “Research in model organisms: methods and tools”

Course objectives

The student:

  • explains the biological mechanisms that underlie ageing and age-related diseases

  • explains how DNA repair mechanisms, the immune system, and metabolic adaptations play a role in the balance between damage accumulation and defence and repair mechanisms in the ageing process.

  • explains how neuro-endocrine mechanisms that evolved to facilitate adaptation of the organism to its changing environment are related to the ageing process.

  • relates the biological mechanisms to the potential for preventive and therapeutic interventions to modulate lifespan and enhance vitality.

  • can explain ageing and age-related diseases from a life course perspective

  • understands the challenges and opportunities of doing research with (i) model organisms and (ii) human subjects in the study of vitality and ageing

  • is able to (i) provide a literature overview of the current knowledge for a topic related to biological mechanisms of ageing and vitality, to (ii) identify a relevant area that requires further research, and to (iii) formulate a novel research question for further research.

Mode of instruction

Interactive lectures, tutor groups, self-study assignments.

Assessment method

Written exam and oral and written assignments, in groups or individually. More information will be published on blackboard.

Reading list

Will be published on blackboard.