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The CARINA Network: Immunity for life


The CARINA (CAtalyst Reducing ImmuNe Ageing) Network is a collaborative initiative that unites researchers interested in the study of the immune system across the life course. Supported by funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), CARINA fosters cooperation among researchers from diverse fields and career levels. The BSI has a leading role in supporting the Network through project delivery, event planning and communications. Through our involvement in CARINA, we aim to enable a sector-wide transformation in our approach to ageing research by creating an inclusive, collaborative space that will be able to address the key research questions in immune ageing in the years to come. In this article, Ben Wilcock, BSI Research Programme Manager, discusses the Network’s aims, impact so far and future work.

Why was CARINA created?

As we age, every component of our immune system changes. Distinct cells and organs react differently to threats, and the effectiveness of these responses varies based on an individual's age. Research indicates that immunity tends to decline as we get older, making it more challenging to mount a robust defence against infections. As a result, older people are at a higher risk of experiencing severe outcomes when encountering pathogens for the first time, a phenomenon that was accentuated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a progressively ageing population, gaining a deeper understanding of how the immune system changes as we get older could open new avenues for promoting better health and longevity. The CARINA Network aims to accomplish this by fostering collaboration among researchers and experts specialising in a diverse range of fields related to ageing, including medical, immunology, nutrition, industry and the charitable sector.

The main aims of the CARINA Network are to:

  • Build a collaborative community of researchers and experts from many different sectors
  • Map the key research questions surrounding immune ageing
  • Investigate and address these questions through an interdisciplinary approach

The CARINA Network facilitates large-scale collaboration between researchers from multiple disciplines who, for the first time, are working together to identify and better understand patterns and commonalities in the immunology of ageing. I am proud to lead this network, and the support of the BSI ensures that CARINA is milestone-driven, inclusive and effective in providing opportunities to develop innovative new research.

Professor Arne Akbar, Principal Investigator, Network Director, and Chair of the CARINA Network Management Group

Who is involved?

CARINA currently has over 90 members, a quarter of whom are early career researchers (ECRs). Together, these researchers are sharing their knowledge, skills and experience to create a holistic and collaborative approach to researching the ageing immune system. The Management Group of CARINA, led by Professor Arne Akbar, former BSI President, directs the Network by identifying new research strategies and ensuring that novel approaches to ageing research are being facilitated through collaboration and knowledge exchange. 

CARINA Management Group

CARINA Network Management Group

The Management Group is supported by a diverse advisory board, chaired by Dr Lorna Chernajovsky, with representatives from industry, the charity sector, and public and patient contributors.

Our Early Career Forum is at the heart of the Network’s activities and meets regularly for spotlight talks and development discussions. In addition, ECRs have been able to access free bioinformatics training through the Network. CARINA has also successfully brought members together to formulate innovate and collaborative grant proposals focusing on developing biomarkers for immune frailty.

We have held two in-person conferences, which have allowed our community to come together with a particular focus on facilitating cross-sector collaborations and gaining a shared consensus from network members of the key research questions within immune ageing and the resources needed to facilitate these.

Immune frailty

In early discussions, the CARINA Network's Management Group explored ways to focus its activity, given its members' diverse research interests. Frailty in the context of the ageing immune system emerged as an underexplored concept that could significantly contribute to poor health in old age. The NHS defines frailty as reduced resilience, preventing recovery after challenges. In the immune system of ageing adults, this could involve infections or tissue injuries; however, the current operational assessment relies primarily on physical characteristics and neglects the role of the immune system, limiting our understanding of the biological factors driving frailty. Despite being a common part of getting older, frailty is usually measured using broad clinical factors such as weak strength, low energy, and weight loss without an obvious cause. This can oversimplify the various factors involved and makes it hard to understand why people become frail and how we can best help them. By identifying the common factors that lead to frailty as people age, we can discover new ways to support older populations in living healthier lives for a longer time.

Recent mice studies have demonstrated that inducing ageing in T cells alone can lead to a frail state, suggesting that immune ageing may play a substantial role in frailty. As a result, the Management Group agreed that refining definitions, understanding, and practical methods for assessing immune frailty would be the Network's most impactful focus.

Future plans

Going forward, we plan to build on our collaborative work around immune frailty, both exploring possible funding opportunities and raising awareness of the importance of the topic within public and policy forums. We also have a focus on building networks and collaborations with industry, with an in-person focused meeting planned for the new year. Finally, we aim to further increase our support of ECRs through offering enhanced training on topics such as grant writing and public involvement in research and offering sandpit funding opportunities.

CARINA, together with the BSI Immunosenescence Affinity Group, is supporting a parallel session at this year’s BSI Congress in Belfast. We hope you will join us at the ‘Inflamm-ageing and immunosenescence: understanding age-associated immunological decline’ session at 11:00–12:45 on Tuesday 5 December.


Ben Wilcock,
BSI Research Programme Manager


Join the network! We are looking for new members from a wide range of disciplines and career stages to join the network. If you're a PhD student, postdoc or PI interested in immune-ageing research, please do get in touch to join the network by emailing

Find out more:
To find out more please visit the CARINA website.
Follow us @CARINAnetwork.