Ballymena man’s major role in new study of ageing

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A Ballymena man is at the heart of Northern Ireland’s largest ever public health research project which aims to recruit 448 participants from the local area.

Cyril McMaster is the Laboratory Manager/Chief Technician within the Centre for Public Health which is spearheading ‘NICOLA’ – the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

The study could provide the basis for future Government policy by following the lives of 8,500 over 50s across Northern Ireland as they grow older and providing a greater understating of the ageing process in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to The Ballymena Times this week, Mr McMaster pointed out that participants in the Queen’s University-led project cannot apply to take part but are, in fact, being randomly selected from across Northern Ireland.

For those who are selected, NICOLA consists of three stages - an interview conducted in the home, a questionnaire and a health assessment which will take place at the new Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility at Belfast City Hospital. Follow-up interviews will be conducted every two years.

Mr McMaster said: “The NICOLA study will provide a vast and very valuable research resource for many years to come. My main role in the study has been setting up of new laboratory facilities at the Belfast City Hospital and preparing protocols for collection and processing of the participant samples. I have also responsibility for the initial analysis and organising long term low temperature storage of the remaining samples for future research analysis.”

Speaking at its launch earlier this year, Professor Ian Young, Principal Investigator of the NICOLA Project, explained: “Northern Ireland is undergoing an ageing revolution. Today there are more people aged under 16 than over 65. By 2037 that will have completely reversed with predictions that there will be 122,000 more over 65s than under 16s. That is an unprecedented change in our society and we need to start planning for it.”

Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keatinge, said: “NICOLA provides an opportunity to ensure that we are prepared to meet the needs of an ageing population. Apart from benefiting from a more detailed insight into their own health and wellbeing, people taking part in NICOLA will provide society with a treasure trove of data that will aid future generations.”