Healthy ageing

We are studying how our longer life expectancy presents new health challenges for our ageing population.

Our scientists are looking into why older people are more prone to certain diseases, the initial causes of these diseases, and how our bodies change as we grow older.


Dementia – which affects mostly older individuals – is predicted to soon become the leading cause of death in Australia. This condition, together with other age-related diseases that affect people’s ability to live and work, can have a devastating personal impact on patients and carers, as well as substantial social and economic consequences for our community.

Many neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are currently incurable and challenging to diagnose, particularly at early stages. Cancer, autoimmune disorders and retinal disorders also persist as pressing concerns for an ageing community.
Diseases in the spotlight

Diseases in the spotlight

Some of our main disease priorities include:

A multi-faceted approach

We bring together advanced technology and multi-disciplinary laboratories to discover better ways to tackle diseases that impact older individuals.

Our goal is to unravel the complexities of conditions that affect our older population and prevent healthy ageing.

WEHI’s research in this area covers a wide spectrum – from understanding genes, cell biology, inflammation and immune responses, to developing new medicines.

We conduct experiments in various settings, including the field and hospitals, and use mathematics, statistics and computer science to gain insights into the world of biology.

Our research into healthy ageing

Our researchers aim to discover better treatments for age-related conditions, as well as ways to diagnose diseases that affect our ageing population earlier and more accurately.

In this space, across a range of focus areas, our researchers are working in the areas of:


  • how normal cells turn into cancer cells
  • the genes and proteins involved in the growth and progression of cancer
  • new ways to treat cancer that target the molecules that cause cancer cell growth
  • how to select the best treatment for a person with cancer.

Epigenetics (how cells use different parts of their DNA)

  • studying the proteins that make changes to our DNA
  • how chemical changes, called ‘epigenetic modifications’ switch genes on or off, affecting our health and causing disease
  • new ways to treat diseases by adjusting the way genes are controlled through these epigenetic changes.


  • the body’s tiny building blocks (molecules) and cells that start, control and stop inflammation in our bodies
  • the specific ways (pathways) our bodies respond with inflammation in the context of different diseases
  • new ways to treat harmful inflammation and boost helpful inflammation.

Cell signalling

  • what goes wrong in cell communication when disease starts
  • proteins that enable cell signalling and how these signals are switched off
  • the pathways that trigger cell death and inflammation that then lead to disease
  • how diseases like cancer, immune disorders and infections disrupt cell signalling
  • new treatments for diseases that target key signalling molecules.

A collaborative approach

Our researchers collaborate with local and global experts in areas such as epigenetics and population health, immunity and ubiquitin signalling. Together, they use state-of-the-art technology to make medical discoveries.

Our efforts to better understand age-related diseases have been boosted by the establishment of two collaborative research centres:

Find out how you can support our research