In 1988, researchers discovered that a mutation in a tiny worm’s genes could extend its lifespan by 50 percent. In the 33 years since, the study of healthy aging has become one of the most dynamic fields in the scientific world, as researchers translate discoveries from the intensive study of animal biology to the development of new medicines and the implementation of lifestyle changes that can help people live better, as well as longer.
This past week, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Protective Life Corporation announced a partnership that will advance the science of healthy aging. Pending approval of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, Protective’s $2 million investment in UAB’s Department of Biology will fund two initiatives, creating the Protective Life Endowed Chair in Healthy Aging and the Protective Life Healthy Aging and Research Acceleration and Innovation Fund. The funds will drive further research efforts, while also expanding awareness about the findings and applications to advance the field and improve quality of life in aging individuals.
“We are in the business of protecting people, and Protective is proud to partner with UAB to advance research that will help people live longer, healthier lives,” said Rich Bielen, president and CEO, Protective. “This investment is also significant for our industry. Research like this will help us support our customers, while also providing critical learnings that can help us improve our products. The more we learn about how people age and how they can live longer, the better equipped we are to develop products that best serve our customers and provide long-term value. I am excited to see what the future holds in this area of science.”
“Our university continues to focus on innovative research, a cornerstone of our strategic plan, to further the advancement of science and medicine,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “The generous gift from Protective Life and Dai-ichi is an investment in each of us living a longer, healthier life and will allow our faculty and students to be leaders in advanced aging research.”
Leading the way
The $1.5 million gift funding the Protective Life Endowed Chair in Healthy Aging will provide UAB’s Department of Biology with the resources to recruit and retain an international leader in the field of healthy aging research and additional researchers. The Protective Life Endowed Chair in Healthy Aging will be able to build on UAB’s pioneering legacy to establish Birmingham as a global epicenter for healthy aging research.
“This gift will impact the training and development of many students and colleagues for generations,” said UAB College of Arts and Sciences Dean Kecia Thomas, Ph.D. “I also look forward to witnessing the transformative effects this gift will have on the applications and practices that develop from the interdisciplinary research funded by the Protective Life Healthy Aging and Research Acceleration and Innovation Fund.”
Faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences study of aging processes will be impacted, from biologists and sociologists to psychologists and social workers. These researchers collaborate with colleagues in the Schools of Medicine, Public Health, Health Professions and others on interdisciplinary research to better understand the aging process as it relates to morbidity and mortality, prepare our society for future demographic shifts, and invest in people’s well-being.
In addition to the endowed chair, Protective Life will donate $500,000 to the Protective Life Healthy Aging and Research Acceleration and Innovation Fund and efforts to share findings and their benefits. Research infrastructure and data repository needed to launch innovative longitudinal research projects will be established to focus on lifestyle factors that promote health and impact morbidity and mortality. UAB’s team of researchers led by Steven N. Austad, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Biology, senior scientific director of the American Federation of Aging Research and co-director of the UAB Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, will utilize the investment to develop new technologies to assist in collecting data from a large participant population to enhance findings and create additional research studies.
Key discoveries and findings will be shared with other healthy aging researchers and the community at large to advance the progress made and share discoveries in aging research and how it relates to morbidity and mortality.
“In the 21st century, aging represents the No. 1 challenge to human health as it underlies nearly all our major diseases and disabilities,” said Austad, one of the most respected minds in healthy aging research. “However, aging is a biological process, and biological processes can be medically targeted. This gift shows the commitment of Protective and UAB’s working together to ensure that the 21st century will see our citizens achieving longer and healthier lives than ever before.”
The Department of Biology will be able to further its research and create a hub for leaders in nutrition, exercise and genomics.
Making a global impact
Dai-ichi Life Holdings, Inc. (Dai-ichi), parent company of Protective, is dedicated to creating new business models through innovation as part of its business strategy, executing a multi-step strategy to accelerate innovations across its business. Utilizing networks of world-class professionals, Dai-ichi has become an industry leader in pursuing the potential of flexible ideas, innovative work styles and advanced technologies. The company has established Dai-ichi Life Innovation Labs in Shibuya (Tokyo),Silicon Valley and London. Additionally, Dai-ichi has signed several comprehensive collaboration agreements with major universities in Japan to help solve various social issues, including healthy aging. Each of Dai-ichi’s international Group Companies shares the Dai-ichi vision to “protect and improve the well-being of all” in locations across the globe.
Dai-ichi’s flagship company, Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Limited, was founded Sept. 15, 1902. Dai-ichi Life was the oldest mutual insurance company in Japan until it was demutualized and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on April 1, 2010.
Making a healthier, longer life a priority
Protective Life, one of Birmingham’s oldest and most successful companies, has been a leader in encouraging its employees to make healthier lifestyle choices. Offering a wellness program to employees for almost 40 years, Protective remains committed to supporting employee health through benefits like a health habits reward program, on-site nurse, mental health resources, annual challenges to encourage healthy habits and more.
UAB strives to help Alabamians and those around the world achieve a healthier life through research and initiatives, such as the Live HealthSmart initiative, which seeks to leverage the university’s capabilities to make Alabama a model for healthy living by 2030. Healthy aging research takes a long-term approach to these same issues: UAB’s goal is not simply to extend people’s lifespans, but to enhance the quality of people’s lives as our population ages.
(Courtesy of UAB)