E-nnovation Germany Header

Issue 34, January 2013
bulletAging Society and Lifelong Learning
bulletLearning is a Lifelong Process: Interview with Prof. Jutta Allmendinger Ph.D.
bulletDon't Look Back in Anger: Aging and Regret
bulletPlasticity: Potential and Limits of Human Development
bulletPromoting Knowledge Transfer in Businesses through Learning Partnerships
bulletInnovation: HepaChip® Improves the Drug Development Process
article1Aging Society and Lifelong Learning
The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 is the largest systematic study to describe the global distribution and causes of a wide array of major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors. According to this report, average life expectancy has increased dramatically. Worldwide, men are now living 11 years and women 12 years longer than 40 years ago.

Analysts at the German Federal Statistical Office predict that boys born in 2012 will reach 77 years and nine months of age, while girls will live five years longer, up to 82 years and nine months. Yet, by 2060, Germany's population is expected to shrink by 20% to approximately 65 million people, and by 2030, the percentage of people over 65 will constitute 29% of the overall population. With the number of older people increasing and a birth rate of only 1.4 children per woman, Germany's working-age population will decrease. Measurements to help reverse this effect include a rise in the federal retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2029.

These demographic changes pose a number of opportunities and challenges to the health, social, and economic systems, as well as to the individual. While engagement in mental and physical activities help prevent cognitive and physical decline, continuing and adult education are becoming necessary steps to adapt to the changing demands of the labor market.

Prof. Jutta Allmendinger Ph.D.
article2Learning is a Lifelong Process: Interview with Prof. Jutta Allmendinger, Ph.D.

Lifelong learning is a term Jutta Allmendinger prefers to avoid. We learn every day by following the news, surfing the Internet, and talking with friends, she said in her interview with GCRI. In the context of demographic change and labor market developments, Prof. Allmendinger is specifically interested in job-relevant learning categories, from formal education early in life to new career training later in life. In this interview, she also discusses Germany's dual system of vocational training, knowledge transfer between elderly skilled workers and young employees, and key factors that contribute to a qualified and productive workforce.

Jutta Allmendinger is President of the Social Science Research Center Berlin WZB and Professor of Sociology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. From 2003 to 2007, she was Director of the Institute for Employment Research (IAB). Her latest book Schulaufgaben: Wie wir das Bildungssystem verändern müssen, um unseren Kindern gerecht zu werden addresses inequality in the German education system. In Verschenkte Potenziale? Lebensverläufe nicht erwerbstätiger Frauen, she analyzed the life course patterns and labor market potential of non-working women. Learn more about Prof. Allmendinger, who is also a member of the high-level economic expert group "Innovation for Growth" of the European Commission, here.

On December 6, 2012, Prof. Allmendinger spoke about the changing relationship between a traditional university education and the university degree as preparation for a career at GCRI's "The Changing Role of the University in the 21st Century" science dinner. Watch the event video here.

Aging and Regret
article3Don't Look Back in Anger: Aging and Regret

Contribution by Dr. Stefanie Brassen (Head of the Cognitive and Emotional Aging research group, Department of Systems Neuroscience, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf) 

Since opportunities to reverse the consequences of regrettable behavior decline with age, responsiveness to missed chances becomes a critical life-satisfaction factor in older adults. Recent life-span psychology findings show that emotional disengagement from regret is associated with increased well-being in older age.

A Cognitive and Emotional Aging research group project investigated whether neurobiological mechanisms underlie such successful adaption to age-specific challenges. The study combined brain imaging with a risk-taking task that induces the feeling of regret in young as well as in emotionally-successful and -unsuccessful (i.e. late-life depressed) aged volunteers. Only the healthy, elderly participants showed a reduced responsiveness to regret which was accompanied by brain changes that indicate adaptive shifts in emotion regulation. Older and depressed participants, on the other hand, demonstrated more "youth-like" regret engagement.

The study findings show that the way we evaluate and regulate missed chances changes with successful aging and that the brain modulates these changes. It seems to be essential for our emotional well-being not to look back in anger, but to focus on the positive, when older. The fact that emotionally healthy older people engage regulatory brain regions, when confronted with regretful events, points to our life-long ability to deal with the demands of changing life-circumstances. Thus, these findings provide new perspectives for the treatment of late-life depression and for prevention strategies to maintain emotional health when we age. For more information, click here.

This project was supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation (BR 2877/2-1).

article4Plasticity: Potential and Limits of Human Development

By Prof. Dr. Ursula M. Staudinger (Vice President and Founding Dean of the Jacobs Center on Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development, Jacobs University Bremen; Vice President, National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina)

Developmental psychologists investigate potentials and limits of human development from conception to death. "Development" and "aging" are two terms that do not tag two processes following diachronically one after the other; instead, they conceptualize one process. Neither human development nor aging is determined biologically. They are probabilistic - the result of continuous interaction of biological and socio-cultural influences. At any point in a lifetime, developmental paths have certain latitude of manifesting themselves within biological limits. This is what we call "plasticity of human development." How an individual develops depends on the available internal and external resources. Empirically, health, physical abilities, cognition and personality are witnesses to this plasticity and its limits. The limits have hitherto mostly been seen only in old and very old age. The question researchers are currently asking is whether age-related limits will outlive cultural change or whether they will move up or down the age ladder. Analyzing such changes, we then ask in which kind of socio-cultural contexts humans can make the most of their potential.  

For example, in an ongoing interdisciplinary project we investigate whether cumulative job mobility across the working lifespan results in maintenance and growth in important developmental outcomes from the domains of cognition and personality. Exposure to new professional environments could potentially foster learning; high career mobility is expected to buffer age-related declines in employee adaptability. Under certain conditions job mobility could be a natural intervention, enabling individuals to successfully navigate through their extended life spans.

article5Promoting Knowledge Transfer in Businesses through Learning Partnerships

The average age of workers in most western industrialized countries is increasing. Therefore, employees will need to maintain a high level of productivity for more years than were previously required. To avoid excessive burdens and make the most of older workers' valuable experiences, one possibility is to offer cross-generational learning partnerships. When implemented well, these create a win-win situation: they provide a benefit not only for the older workers, but also for the younger ones, and for the business as a whole.

The general model is for two employees of different generations to form a learning partnership. The two co-workers then navigate day-to-day tasks together. This allows the knowledge and experience of many years to meet freshly-acquired competencies and new perspectives.

Older employees realize how valuable their competencies are - they feel appreciated while simultaneously getting support from young and innovative colleagues. Younger employees profit from the experiences of the older employees and have the opportunity to apply their own knowledge and ask questions. In short, the pair learns from one another - in practice. With learning partnerships or leadership tandems, businesses create a knowledge pool that not only uses the full potential of experienced employees, but also helps ease some of their burden.

For further reading:

May 2012: Securing the Future with Prevention - Strategies for a World of Work aligned to Demographic Change

March 2005: Demographic Change and Employment - A Call for New Corporate Strategies

article6Innovation: HepaChip® Improves the Drug Development Process

Scientists at the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute (NMI) at the University of Tübingen in Reutlingen have developed the HepaChip®, a novel platform for pre-clinical drug testing. It combines methods from biotechnology and micro-system technology to significantly improve the detection of adverse side effects of drug candidates.

Unlike any other cell culture system currently available, in the HepaChip® cells from the human liver are actively arranged within a microfluidic system to form small micro-organs by means of electric fields. Cell-cell interactions and perfusion closely resemble the composition and function of liver sinusoids, the smallest functional units of the liver.

Today, the cost of developing and approving new drugs exceeds $1 billion. Especially toxic side effects, such as liver damage, and low efficiency of drug candidates pose a major problem as they often cannot be detected by tests currently employed utilizing cells or animals.
The HepaChip® will improve the drug development process by enabling the assessment of a candidate's safety prior to risky and expensive tests on patients in clinical studies. In addition, it will help to reduce the number of animal experiments which are too often inadequate for predicting human health risks.

Collaboration projects initiated by NMI are under way with the University of Leipzig as well as industrial partners (microfluidic ChipShop, Ionovation, European Screening Port, AnalytiCon Discovery). These projects are being funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The NMI also plans to spin-off a company to exploit the HepaChip® technology.
For more information, click here.