Aging Research

Publication Analysis 1999-2010
by Ralf Neumann, Labtimes 04/2012

Europe... ... and the World Most Cited Authors... ... and Papers

Most Cited Authors - Pictures

Photo: Chip Fotowelt/muc1977

England scored best in European aging research. The big surprise, however, is Italy following in second place with total citations. The highest average citation rates were achieved by the Scandinavian duo, Denmark and Norway.

Many proclaim that aging research has only recently emerged as a distinct research discipline. Actually, “aging research” is quite old and started more than a hundred years ago.

In 1903, Elie Metchnikoff from the Pasteur Institute of Paris, who five years later together with Paul Ehrlich received the Nobel Prize for their research on cellular immunology, introduced the term “gerontology”. The background was that he and others had recognised that the health of the Western populations was undergoing a change from domination by infectious diseases to chronic diseases. Additionally, at the same time, the notion had already dawned that degenerative diseases were a manifestation of the process of aging.

Since then, a small but constant number of scientists have continuously been dedicating their efforts towards the biomedical mechanisms and problems of aging. Nevertheless, “gerontology” as a whole remained a small niche of life science research for quite a long time – due to a variety of reasons, which interestingly also included some religious and philosophical convictions.

“The aging society”

Therefore, it took until the mid-1970s, when the elevation of the Section on Aging to the National Institute on Aging within the US-National Institutes of Health constituted a landmark in the growing support of research on aging. Gerontology was finally coming of age and has since then experienced a sharp rise. Aging research institutes were founded all over in order to investigate the biomedical (and other) aspects of what is now summarised under the catchphrase “the aging society”. Accordingly, the overall citations of biomedical aging research articles more than doubled in the time span 2001 to 2008.

Given this background of a highly dynamic though also very diverse research discipline, this publication analysis of European aging research seems very overdue.

A highly dynamic field

But before delving deeper into the analysis, one “technical” point must be clarified. Many of the “top papers” on aging research are, indeed, published in multidisciplinary journals like Nature, Science or The Lancet. Nevertheless, we had to restrict a certain part of the analysis to the 45 expert journals listed in the subject category “Gerontology & Geriatry” of Thomson Reuters’ database Web of Science, which was used for this analysis. The reason is that Web of Science doesn’t provide any sufficiently reliable tools to automatically extract relevant aging research articles from those multidisciplinary journals. Of course, as a result, some of the most prominent papers in the field have been omitted from the performance analysis of individual countries (see tables p. 33). Despite this limitation, however, we believe that a survey, restricted to the specialist journals only, still provides sufficiently valid indicators for the countries’ overall productivity in aging research. On the contrary, rankings of the most-cited researchers and papers (see tables, p. 34) could be analysed from publications in all journals.

Given this directive, let’s have a look at how the European publication output in aging research during the period 1999-2010 is allocated among the individual European countries. The fact that England emerges as the “winner” in terms of article numbers and overall citations isn’t really unexpected. A big surprise, however, is the second place for Italy, thus pushing Germany, the “usual European life science silver medallist”, back into third place. Perhaps interesting in this respect: With an average of 82 years, the Italians, together with Iceland, have the highest life expectancy out of all European countries. Unlikely though, that there is any correlation to the strong Italian performance in aging research.

The Netherlands and Sweden also impressed by achieving places 4 and 5 in terms of total citations, which, in turn, was at the cost of usually higher ranking France and Spain. Slightly higher ranks than in most other life science disciplines were, furthermore, achieved by Finland (9th), Israel (10th) and Ireland (15th); Scotland (13th), on the other hand, performed a little lower than usual.

When it comes to average citation rates, it is two Scandinavian countries that have climbed to the top, Denmark with 13.3 citations per article, followed by Norway with 12.4. Behind that couple, their neighbours Belgium (11.7) and The Netherlands (11.3) occupied the next places. Sweden (10.6) completed the Scandinavian trio in fifth place; with Italy and France (both 10.5), the first two of the so-called bigger research nations, coming in only marginally behind.

Falling short of the US

And beyond the European borders? When compared to their US colleagues, the European performance in the expert journals for aging research altogether fell unusually short of the corresponding US output: 25,400 vs. 44,600 articles and 224,000 vs. 322,000 in terms of total citations. At least, the “Europeans” scored a higher average citation rate: 8.8 vs. 7.2.

Japan, whose population enjoys the greatest longevity worldwide, on the other hand, did not exactly impress by high publication and citation scores in aging research: the first five of the European countries list achieved higher total citation numbers.

When looking at the most-cited heads of European aging research two things become immediately obvious: their high citation counts and the diversity of field. Both aspects, of course, are interconnected in various ways. First of all, aging research certainly is a big topic for epidemiologic and public health studies, which inherently attract a wealth of citations – a fact, for example, represented by the top placings of Albert Hofmann (1st) and Kay-Tee Khaw (4th). The same is true for the major topic of age-related diseases, in general, and dementia, in particular. About half of the 30 most-cited European aging researchers can be attributed to this field, as, for example, the two Swedish clinical neuroscientists Bengt Winblad (2nd) and Kaj Blennow (3rd) or the molecular biologist Konrad Beyreuther (13th).

Furthermore, five “heads” of the list have focussed their work on molecular and cellular aspects of normal aging, among them Spanish telomere specialist Maria Blasco (9th) and Italian immunoaging expert Claudio Franceschi (10th); two more colleagues, Brenda Penninx (11th) and Aartjan Beekman (25th), investigate psychiatric disorders of the elderly; and with Steven Boonen (30th), finally a clinical specialist for age-related osteoporosis also climbed the list. Last but not least, there is another striking fact lighting up the “top 30”-list: ten of them are women. This is by far the highest proportion of female scientists in all life science disciplines analysed, so far.


Articles appearing between 1999 and 2010 in ‘aging research journals’ as listed by SCImago and Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science. The citation numbers are accurate as of May 2012. A country’s figures are derived from articles, where at least one author working in the respective European nation is included in the authors’ list. Israel is included because it is a member of many European research organisations and programmes (EMBO, FP7 of the EU...).

Citations of articles published between 1999 and 2010 were recorded up until May 2012 using the Web of Science database from Thomson Reuters. The “most-cited papers” had correspondence addresses in Europe or Israel.


Country Citations Articles Cit./Art.

... and the World

Citations Articles Cit./Art.
South Korea5.2258865,9

Most Cited Authors...

Citations Articles
1.Albert Hofmann, Epidemiol. Erasmus Med. Ctr. Rotterdam34.363745
2.Bengt Winblad, Aging Res. Ctr. Neurobiol. Karolinska Inst. Stockholm17.585417
3.Kaj Blennow, Neurosci. & Physiol. Sahlgrenska Acad. Gothenburg Univ.15.244358
4.Kay-Tee Khaw, Clin. Gerontol. Unit Sch. Clin. Med. Univ. Cambridge14.611387
5.Philip Scheltens, Alzheimer Ctr. Free Univ. Amsterdam Med. Ctr.11.569294
6.Ian G. McKeith, Inst. Ageing and Health Newcastle Univ.10.754190
7.John T. O’Brien, Inst. Ageing and Health Newcastle Univ.10.315208
8.Rudi G.J. Westendorp, Gerontol. & Geriatr. Leiden Univ. Med. Ctr.9.713274
9.Maria A. Blasco, Spanish Natl. Canc. Res. Ctr. (CNIO) Madrid 9.157132
10.Claudio Franceschi, Exp Pathol. Univ. Bologna8.983276
11.Brenda W.J.H. Penninx, Psychiatry Free Univ. Med. Ctr., Amsterdam8.977199
12.Nick C. Fox, Dementia Res. Ctr., Inst.Neurol. Univ. Coll. London8.651200
13.Konrad Beyreuther, Ctr. Mol. Biol. Univ. Heidelberg8.553131
14.Laura Fratiglioni, Aging Res. Ctr. Neurobiol. Karolinska Inst. Stockholm8.496131
15.Hilkka Soininen, Neurol. Univ. Hosp. Kuopio8.278209
16.Michael N. Hall, Biocenter Univ. Basel7.83357
17.Harald Hampel, Psychiatr. Univ. Hosp. Frankfurt7.591188
18.Jelle Jolles, Educational Neurosci. Free Univ. Amsterdam7.481236
19.Hermann Brenner, Aging Res. German Canc. Res. Ctr. Heidelberg7.401320
20.Dag Aarsland, Ctr. Age-Related Med. Univ. Hosp. Stavanger7.387122
21.Carol Brayne, Publ. Health Univ. Cambridge7.362180
22.Heiko Braak, Clin. Neuroanat. Univ. Ulm7.336113
23.Marjolein Visser, Health Sci. Free Univ. Amsterdam7.210125
24.Ian D. Hickson, Cell. & Mol. Biol. Ctr. Healthy Aging Univ. Copenhagen7.080104
25.Aartjan T.F. Beekman, Gen. Pract. Free Univ. Med. Ctr., Amsterdam6.887231
26.Linda Partridge, Max Planck Inst. Biol. of Aging Cologne6.677119
27.Dorly J.H. Deeg, EMGO-Inst. Free Univ. Med. Ctr. Amsterdam6.616186
28.Agneta Nordberg, Alzheimer Neurobiol. Ctr. Karolinska Inst. Stockholm6.566121
29.Wulf Dröge, German Cancer Res. Ctr. Heidelberg († 2010) 6.00058
30.Steven Boonen, Gerontol. & Geriatr. Cath. Univ. Leuven5.998175

... and Papers

1.Good, CD; Johnsrude, IS; Ashburner, J; Henson, RNA; Friston, KJ; Frackowiak, RSJ
A voxel-based morphometric study of ageing in 465 normal adult human brains.
NEUROIMAGE 14 (1): 21-36 JUL 2001
2.Shepherd, J; Blauw, GJ; Murphy, MB; [...]; Sweeney, BJ; Twomey, C; Westendorp, RGJ
Pravastatin in elderly individuals at risk of vascular disease (PROSPER): a randomised controlled trial.
LANCET 360 (9346): 1623-30 NOV 23 2002
3.Ferri, CP; Prince, M; Brayne, C; [...]; Fratiglioni, L; [...]; Menezes, PR; Rimmer, E; Scazufca, M
Global prevalence of dementia: a Delphi consensus study.
LANCET 366 (9503): 2112-17 DEC-JAN 2005
4.Trifunovic, A; Wredenberg, A; Falkenberg, M; [...]; Tornell, J; Jacobs, HT; Larsson, NG
Premature ageing in mice expressing defective mitochondrial DNA polymerase.
NATURE 429 (6990): 417-23 MAY 27 2004
5.Clancy, DJ; Gems, D; Harshman, LG; Oldham, S; Stocker, H; Hafen, E; Leevers, SJ; Partridge, L
Extension of life-span by loss of CHICO, a Drosophila insulin receptor substrate protein.
SCIENCE 292 (5514): 104-6 APR 6 2001

Last Changed: 13.07.2012

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