Institute for Ageing

News Items

Farewell to Professor Tom Kirkwood

As we wish a farewell to Professor Kirkwood who retires at the end of the year, we take a look at his leadership and research expertise and how they were instrumental in establishing Newcastle as a world leader in Ageing Research.

Here Tom reflects on the highlights of his career...

"With life spans growing and everything about ageing changing, retirement isn’t standing still either. I’m now looking forward to being an active ‘emeritus’ here in Newcastle and to making the most of my new part-time research professorship at the University of Copenhagen. Nevertheless, ‘retirement’ is a significant milestone in life and a cause to reflect.

Why Newcastle?

My research into ageing began early, with two papers in 1975 followed in 1977 by articles in both Nature and Science, but at that time there were almost no jobs to be had in the subject. From heading a research division on mathematical biology at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, I was appointed to the first UK chair on science of ageing at Manchester in 1993. In 1996 we created the Joint Centre on Ageing between Newcastle and Manchester, and it soon became clear to me that Newcastle University offered great potential for exciting, multidisciplinary growth on this topic. So in 1999 I came to what was then the rather new Newcastle Institute for the Health of the Elderly.

Building our reputation

The experience of contributing to the growth of the institute, soon renamed the Institute for Ageing and Health, has been exciting and often moving. There have been many highlights, of which three stand out particularly. In 2002, we won funding from The Wellcome Trust for a new building – the Henry Wellcome Laboratory for Biogerontology Research. This was a crucial step in creating what is now the substantial Campus for Ageing and Vitality. In 2005, we received multi-million pound support for the path-breaking Centre for Integrated Systems Biology of Ageing and Nutrition, which has led the world in developing ways to address the underlying complexities of the ageing process. And in 2006, MRC programme grant funding enabled the creation of the Newcastle 85+ Study, the largest and most detailed investigation to date of the biological, social and medical factors influencing the trajectories of health of the fastest growing, but seriously neglected, segment of the population.

Enjoying our success

It has been wonderful to see the growing recognition of Newcastle’s work on ageing, both through the funding of multiple further centres here as well as awards including a Queen’s Anniversary Prize and an Excellence with Impact award. The Newcastle Initiative on Changing Age from 2009 to 2014 achieved spectacular successes in addressing the Societal Challenge of Ageing, and this work is now being taking forward in exciting ways through the newly configured Newcastle University Institute for Ageing.

Looking to the future

At a more personal level, the reflection that I value most highly has been the people with whom I have worked – not only my established colleagues but most particularly the students and early-career researchers who will be spearheading the future progress in this challenging and important field. I recently visited the US National Institute on Aging where I was humbled to have been invited to deliver the Nathan Shock Award Lecture – an honour not previously awarded to a non-US scientist and one which, I was surprised to learn, was voted on by the entire scientific staff of the NIA. A highlight of my visit was an informal sandwich lunch with NIA junior researchers, as eager and enthusiastic a bunch as ours. On both sides of the Atlantic the future of the field is thus well assured, which is good news now that I am old enough to hope to benefit in rather practical ways!"

Emeritus Professor Tom Kirkwood, The Newcastle University Institute for Ageing 

"On behalf of the Faculty and NUIA we'd like to wish him all the best for a long and happy retirement. As the current Director of the Institute, I also wish to add my very personal gratitude for his mentorship and support. In my brief 'reign', the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing has seen additional success through the Government Award for £20 million for the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and the Queen's 90th Birthday celebration honour of the first Regius Professorship to Newcastle University for Ageing. Both of these accolades were deeply grounded in the success achieved by Tom during his role as Director. "   Professor Louise Robinson 

Professors Louise Robinson and Tom Kirkwood

published on: 13 December 2016