Northern Netherlands: Healthy Ageing Ecosystem

Northern Netherlands: Healthy Ageing Ecosystem

On the Picture:  Daan Bultje, Director of HANNN

Turning ageing into a strength
Facing demographic change in an early stage, and knowing most of the western world would soon go down the same path, the Northern Netherlands as a region decided to turn a potential weakness into their strength by focussing on Healthy Ageing.

In 2006 the foundation was laid for a still expanding network of knowledge and educational institutions, companies (SME’s and multinationals), local and regional governments with the ambition to add healthy years to life. Within the Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands (HANNN), new forms of prevention, better drugs, healthy food, new organizational models for care and new products and services are being developed.

The focus lays explicitly on the entire life cycle, from before conception to the end of life: from babies to the elderly; prevention where possible, customized treatment, with the emphasis above all on quality of life and the ability to participate. This requires three forms of prevention:

– Primary prevention: prevent the onset of a disease. This can be achieved by delaying ageing processes, eliminating causes, adjusting the environment and lifestyle or by strengthening the body’s resistance (the immune system).

– Secondary prevention: avoid and limit loss of health through early detection and treatment. Earlier, more targeted and more customized treatments improve the chances of healing and limit side effects. Early intervention in lifestyle and environmental factors reduce the chances and the severity of subsequent problems.

– Tertiary prevention: reduce the impact of chronic diseases. Less invasive and more specific treatments limit the associated damage and (subsequent) complications. ICT and eHealth improve patient independence and self-sufficiency.

Flag Ships
In order to strengthen the knowledge base of the Northern Netherlands, there have been considerable investments in infrastructural projects such as LifeLines and ERIBA.

LifeLines is a cohort study with no less than 165,000 participants (10% of the population in the Northern Netherlands) encompassing three generations, who will be followed for 30 years. In the studies a variety of data on these people are collected, ranging from genetic factors , social, psychological and medical status, food habits, lifestyle, work and life environment. The study will deliver and incredible amount of information on when and why people become ill.

The European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA), located on the Healthy Ageing Campus Netherlands, was established in 2009. Many international top scientists work in this institute within research groups to get to the bottom of different aspects of the biology of ageing. This center of excellence has now established important partnerships with other leading ageing institutions in Europe, North America and Russia.

European Reference Site
By combining knowledge with entrepreneurship and healthcare and acknowledging the fact that successful innovation requires the involvement of end-users in the process of development and implementation, the HANNN region has a strong tradition turning research into services, products and other concepts supporting Healthy Ageing. HANNN focusses on cross overs between Life Sciences, Food & Nutrition, Medical Technology and Care & Cure.

This leads to the development of food for specific groups, from infants to patients and the elderly; In and around the city of Leeuwarden a flourishing Serious Gaming sector is working together with hospitals, centers for rehabilitation and lifestyle organizations, making the training of professionals more fun and effective, supporting healthy behavior and motivating people in a long rehabilitation process. The Quantified Self Institute in Groningen is dedicated to researching and applying self-tracking for personalized health through apps and wearables; the province of Drenthe is using it’s beautiful landscape to combine health (care) with tourism; and with Embrace, an Integrated Elderly Care Program, the care delivery system is redesigned into personalized, coherent, proactive and preventive care and support for elderly people of 75 years and older.

The Northern Netherlands has shown that it offers innovative and upscaleable projects and has earned the right to name itself a reference site for Active & Healthy Ageing, part of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing. This initiative aims at creating partnerships on a European level, leading to the exchange of ideas and application of proven solutions throughout the EU. That’s why the international cooperation is an important part of the HANNN-agenda. For instance, the Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands is a proud member of ScanBalt, a large network of life sciences research-driven clusters around the Baltic Sea. This year Groningen is hosting the ScanBalt Forum, from the 8th to 10th October, which focusses on the scientific and bio-economic aspects of the demographic change that take place in Northern Europe. Matchmaking between companies and researchers will form a major part of the program. Because in the Northern Netherlands we believe Healthy Ageing innovation starts with cooperation.

Daan Bultje (32) started February 1st 2014 as director of HANNN and has spent the past five years scouting, developing and supporting Healthy Ageing initiatives within the University Medical Center Groningen and in the Northern Netherlands. He was board-member of the Healthy Ageing Campus Netherlands and participated for the UMCG in the Advancing Care Coordination & TeleHealth (ACT) Deployment Programme.

ScanBalt members: