Smart Health Community for Older Cancer Patients and Interdisciplinary Interactions with Medical Education for Future Geriatricians

The incidence of cancer increases proportionally with age, especially in the regions of the European Union. Furthermore, many of the most common types of cancer are particularly prevalent among older people. We have investigated a missing link between older cancer patients, medical staff and society. Not only in the EU, but worldwide, there are still very few specialised professionals addressing the concept of geriatrics. The coverage of follow-up for elderly patients and better medical and social care after surgical or chemo/radio treatment for older patients is a major challenge. Our goal is to initiate a programme that brings together elderly cancer patients and young medical students under the supervision of excellent geriatricians, oncologists, oncologic surgeons, translational scientists, computer scientists and economists from the EUniWell University Consortium.

Purpose and Significance

The central goals of the project include:

  1. Improving the impact of geriatrics in the healthcare education;
  2. Motivating medical students to contribution to the community health system as early as possible;
  3. Calling for more social attention to the elderly, who are at relatively high risk for cancer and COVID-associated diseases;
  4. Strengthening links between higher education institutions by bringing together the visions of scholars from different disciplines.

The importance of the Onco-Aging project for the EUniWell Mission

The EUniWell vision focuses on the centrality of well-being as a key component in defining the existence of higher education institutions.

Onco-Aging operationalises this vision by addressing an issue whose relevance is growing in European societies and worldwide - i.e. the well-being of elderly cancer patients. Onco-Aging will integrate an excellent interdisciplinary team covering most partners of EUniWell Universities and we believe it can attract more interest and attention from all partners and even more universities inside and outside the EU.

The challenges that Onco-Aging will simultaneously address (and the ways in which it will do so) will impact social, health, and educational issues. Although this is a one-year project, we hope that the impact and initiation activities will have a long-term effect to increase the focus on well-being for healthy ageing.

Implementation Method and Timeline

Key activities and methods implementated in this programme include:

  1. Within the Seed Funding period: Motivated medical students from EUniWell partners are recruited for supporting elderly cancer patients through educational movies and a series of e-classes.
  2. Within the Seed Funding period: A workshop on onco-ageing will bring experts together to discuss pressing issues in healthcare for older cancer patients and increase the appeal to medical students with a perspective on geriatric careers in career development, as well as strengthen networking and interdisciplinary connections among consortium partners.
  3. Within the following 2-3 years: A special journal issue/book is planned for Onco-Aging based on the workshop activities and student work report.
  4. Within the following 5-6 years: An art exhibition on ageing could be planned to increase the social impact of the onco-ageing issue, also in conjunction with other charity activities to better support older cancer patients.


With the great support from the EUniWell Seed Funding Programme

  1. We sought ethical approval to conduct a survey of healthcare and life sciences students to learn more about their experiences/expectations regarding geriatric education in the care of cancer patients;
  2. We implemented a first web-based public awareness course on geriatric oncology including a mini-movie (conversation with a cancer patient at different biological ages) and e-class lectures on various topics related to geriatrics, oncology, surgery, economics, informatics, etc;
  3. An international, virtual workshop for Onco-Aging was hosted on 8 Feb 2022, bringing together experts to discuss the urgent issues for the healthcare of elderly cancer patients, to attract medical students with a perspective on geriatrician professions in career development and to strengthen the network of interdisciplinary connections among the consortium partners.
  4. We plan to develop a paper that summarises and shares the experiences from this interdisciplinary education programme, based on the survey and workshop results.

We hope to expand and distribute our concepts by working with all forces and stakeholders to create a long-term impact on the care and well-being of the elderly population.

From October 2020, the EUniWell Onco-Aging working group was composed of:

University of Cologne, Germany

  • Dr. Yue Zhao, Translational oncological researcher, Surgical oncology research lab, University Hospital of Cologne
  • Prof. Dr. M. Cristina Polidori-Nelles, Geriatrician, Head Ageing Clinical Research Dpt. II Internal Medicine, University Hospital of Cologne and CECAD

Leiden University, Netherlands

  • Prof. Dr. Johanneke Portielje, Medical oncologist, Head of Geriatric Oncology, Department of Medical Oncology, Leiden University Medical Centre
  • Dr. Gerrit Jan Liefers, Surgeon, Head of Department of Surgery, Leiden University Medical Centre

University of Florence, Italy

  • Prof. Dr. Mario Biggeri
  • Dr. Maria Nannini
  • Dr. Caterina Arciprete
  • Carmela Nitti (M.Sc)

University of Birmingham, UK

  • Dr. Gianmarco Contino, Clinical Senior Lecturer of Cancer Genomic and Honorary Consultant (Upper GI Surgery),

Linnaeus University, Sweden

  • Prof. Dr. Mexhid Ferati, Interaction Design Program Manager, Informatics Department

Medical students or young physicians from University of Cologne and Hospitals in Cologne, Germany

  • Nellie Horstman
  • Dr. Lena Pickert
  • Judith Lohmann

International partners of the Onco-Aging workshop:

  • International Society of Geriatric Oncology (SIOG)
  • Cancer and Aging Research Group (CARG)

Project advisory team:

  • Prof. Dr. Peter Malfertheiner (Gastroenterologist, Magdeburg/Munich, Germany) Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Infectious Diseases, Otto-von- Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany; Ludwig Maximilian University Clinic, Medical Clinic II, München, Germany
  • Prof. Dr. Christiane Bruns (Surgical chef physician, Cologne, Germany) Department of General-, Visceral- and Tumor Surgery, University of Cologne; Comprehensive Cancer Center CIO Cologne/Bonn, Germany
  • Priv. Doz. Valentin Goede (Specialist in internal medicine, geriatrics, hematology and internal oncology), Department of Oncological geriatrics, St. Marien-Hospital, Cologne, Germany
  • Dr. Evelyn Plamper, MD, MPH (Speciality in Quality Assurance, Community Health, Quality Management, Outcome Assessment (Health Care), Health Care Management, International Health, Medical & Health Profession Education, Health Systems, Health Promotion, Health Policy) Head of corporate development, University Hospital of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

Further information

The Onco-Aging Mini-Movie

Please see the video's description box on YouTube for more details on the scenarios and cast featured.

    Onco-Aging E-Classes: 2. Aging and Cancer

    Onco-Aging E-Classes: 4. Breast cancer in older patients

    Onco-Aging E-Classes: 6. The use of virtual and augmented reality in oncology training and treatment

    Onco-Aging E-Classes: 1. Why Onco-Aging?

    Onco-Aging E-Classes: 3. Why is Geriatric assessment important for patients with cancer in old age?

    Onco-Aging E-Classes: 5. Immunotherapy in older patients with melanoma

    Onco-Aging E-Classes: 7. The framework of human development and capability approach for onco-geriatrics


    • Dr. Yue Zhao: Department of General, Visceral, Cancer and Transplantation Surgery, University Hospital of Cologne, University of Cologne
    • Prof. Dr. M. Cristina Polidori: MD PhD FRCP, Professor of Ageing Medicine and Geriatrics, Cologne, Germany/Italy, Unit for Ageing Clinical Research Dpt. Medicine II, University Hospital of Cologne