How do we help people to stay healthy as they grow older? That is the question the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging aims to answer as it grows from a program into the newest research centre at the UBC Faculty of Medicine. By bringing together UBC researchers to study aging, the centre will find new ways to promote healthy aging and prevent and treat age-related illnesses.
“The journey to become a Faculty of Medicine centre is a rigorous, multi-step process that involves bringing together experts from many different disciplines,” says Dr. Dermot Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice-President, Health at UBC. “The momentum this process has generated will accelerate UBC-led innovation to achieve Dr. Leong’s vision of enhancing the quality of living of elderly people in communities around the world.”
The new Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging is a dream come true for Dr. Edwin S.H. Leong, BSc’73, LLD’19. He has already supported many impactful programs at UBC that promote wellbeing among seniors. For him, the centre is key to transforming the way society defines and supports healthy aging.
“I am delighted to see the transition from a program to a centre come to fruition at UBC,” says Dr. Leong. “This step forward will elevate the partnerships the healthy aging community is able to achieve both across the university and with institutions around the world. Only by working together will we make steady progress toward healthy living for all.”
During his first year as the Edwin S.H. Leong UBC Chair in Healthy Aging – A UBC President’s Excellence Chair, Dr. Michael Kobor invited researchers across the university to join him to create an innovative research program that would help people live healthier lives as they age.
“It was remarkable how quickly the community came together and embraced the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and campuses,” says Dr. Kobor, Director of the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging. “The momentum generated by assembling an incredible roster of members will propel our research forward in the coming years.”
When the new centre was approved in May 2023, the membership included 48 faculty members and 27 trainees from eight faculties, 20 departments and schools, and two UBC campuses in Vancouver and the Okanagan.
“The Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging gives us an umbrella to bring together researchers for a holistic approach and rigorous science that deepens our understanding of healthy aging and leads to opportunities for intervention and, most importantly, prevention. These are the practical steps that individuals, communities and societies can take to advance healthy lives,” says Dr. Kobor.
Transforming how society defines and supports healthy aging
Healthy aging is a life-long journey that begins at conception and continues through old age. It involves optimizing opportunities to maintain and improve physical and mental health, and also independence, quality of life and social connection.
The Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging will examine this complex challenge using a ‘society to cell’ perspective to understand the genetic, molecular, cellular, environmental, cultural, social and lifestyle factors that influence the aging process and health and wellbeing in the later years.
Faculty and trainees will work in laboratories, clinics and communities, and also at the level of population health, to understand the determinants and mechanisms of aging and diseases that become more frequent with age such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and respiratory illnesses. Once centre members have a handle on these processes, they can develop innovative approaches to prevent, diagnose and treat age-associated disease, and to keep people healthy and living in their own communities longer as they age.
The centre has four research focus areas—geroscience, society to cell, age-associated diseases and prevention and intervention—each co-led by two faculty members who have witnessed the complexity of clinical issues in older adults, and have also experienced the challenges and opportunities of collaboration across multiple disciplines.
“The collective is so important to understanding all the different aspects of our shared goal—adding quality to years lived and not just years to one’s life,” says Dr. Helen Tremlett, society to cell co-lead and professor of neurology. “I’m really hoping that through collaboration, we can achieve some of our golden dreams.”
Thanks to the philanthropic support of Dr. Leong, the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Aging will continue to evolve in the coming years. Dr. Kobor will engage more faculty and trainees in the activities of the centre, help define and seek funding for collaborative research projects and create opportunities for knowledge exchange and mentorship across the healthy aging community—all toward advancing healthy lives.