Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre

Project Items

Genetics of Healthy Ageing (GEHA)


This project, funded by the European Commission, was the largest ever financed in Europe to study the genetic determinants of human longevity. Newcastle University was involved through the Institute of Ageing and Health (IAH), led by Professor Tom Kirkwood.

The size of the post-retirement population is usually presented as being a negative feature of many European societies: health problems associated with ageing create personal, social, medical and economic difficulties. There is much to be learnt from those people who ‘age successfully’ by avoiding major age-related diseases and conditions.

The GEHA project collected 5300 old siblings and 2650 younger controls. The Consortium consisted of 25 partners from 12 different countries: the research involved collecting blood samples and interviewing older people about their lifestyles.

Erica Haimes chaired the Ethics Board for the project which was responsible for writing the guidelines to ensure the ethical protection of participants: this was a complex task as there were different ethical guidelines for research in the different partner countries.

As well as impacting on the practices of scientists in data collection, a fascinating offshoot of the project was the identification of the similarities and differences between accepted practices in different European countries and analysis of the reasons for this.

The GEHA project was an outcome of the fruitful collaboration between PEALS and the IAH since our 2001 symposium on the goals of ageing research.


The tasks for the Ethics Committee consisted of:

  1. Conducting a postal "ethics survey" amongst the scientists collecting and working on the genetic analyses to assess whether they had identified any ethical challenges in their work.
  2. Writing an advisory document to provide direct and practical advice to these scientists.

Thanks to the efforts of Ninette Rothmüller, our part-time researcher for the Ethics Committee, these tasks have been completed and received very warmly by the GEHA researchers’ community.

Ninette’s work on the project has been presented at several conferences and symposia, including a workshop on translational medicine and public health policy held in Geneva and a week long seminar exploring justice, fairness and biobanking held at the Philipps-University of Marburg.