News

Gene study to shed light on ageing brain

More than one thousand people have had their entire genetic make-up decoded as part of a long-term study to gain insight into why some people’s brains age better than others.

Scientists in Edinburgh have sequenced the DNA of more than 1300 people taking part in a decades-long study into ageing and memory.

The development will enable in-depth analysis of the genetic make-up of those taking part, and may help to identify the genetic basis of why some people’s brains age better than others.

Memory study

The Lothian Birth Cohorts comprise two groups of people born in 1921 and 1936, who were tested on their mental abilities at age 11, originally as a way of informing education policy.

Over the past 15 years, members of the cohort have been regularly tested by researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE).

Aging brain

Their follow-up mental examinations, blood tests and brain scans have yielded a trove of valuable information on mental and physical ageing.

Genome sequencing

Now, researchers have decoded the entire genetic make-ups of those taking part. By linking this genetic information with the cognitive testing carried out over the past 15 years, researchers hope to shed new light on the factors underlying healthy ageing.

This genetic data will prove invaluable for understanding why some people’s brains and thinking skills age better than others. The flip side of having such comprehensive genetic data is that we will also understand better how the environment and lifestyle choices can contribute to healthy ageing.

Professor Ian DearyDirector, Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology

Falling cost

When participants were first recruited to the Lothian Birth Cohorts, each person’s genome would have cost US$100 million to sequence. Today, the cost of sequencing a person’s genome is around US$1000 (about £700). 

Edinburgh Genomics

The genetic sequencing was conducted at Edinburgh Genomics at the University of Edinburgh, one of the largest sequencing facilities in the UK. It was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

This pioneering work has been made possible by our highly skilled team and the Scottish Genomes Partnership’s investment in equipment that enables rapid sequencing and delivery of high quality data at a viable cost.

Joel FearnleyChief Operating Officer, Edinburgh Genomics

Scottish Genomes Partnership

The study was made possible by a major investment in gene sequencing technology by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow to form the Scottish Genomes Partnership.

Profesor David Hume, Director of the University’s Roslin Institute where the seqeuncing facility is housed, said that the achievement opens the door for similar large-scale initatives in other species.

We are delighted with the quality and volume of data coming out of the Edinburgh Genomics facility. This tremendous rate of genetic sequencing is a testament to an incredible team effort which will accelerate our work towards radically improving disease diagnosis and management of patients in the Scottish NHS.

Professor Tim AitmanCo-Chair of the Scottish Genome Partnership and Director of the University’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine

Lothian Birth Cohorts

The Lothian Birth Cohorts are funded by Age UK and the Medical Research Council.

Related links

Lothian Birth Cohorts

Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology

Edinburgh Genomics

Scottish Genomes Parthership

The Roslin Institute

Edinburgh Medical School