Announcements

  • March 15, 2010

    A high degree of conscientiousness—the tendency to follow societal norms, plan, and be task and goal directed—has been shown to predict better physical health and functioning. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, older adults’ conscientiousness also seemed to influence the health status of their spouses, an effect called “compensatory conscientiousness.”

    Another personality trait, neuroticism, is associated with poorer health and physical limitations, the researchers found. Unlike conscientiousness, neuroticism—an enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states, often accompanied by anxiety or stress—did not predict a spouse’s or partner’s health status.

    However, people who scored high in both neuroticism and conscientiousness were healthier than others, perhaps because the heightened sense of concern worked synergistically to result in a higher degree of awareness of a spouse’s health. The wives of men with this combination of personality traits reported better health than other women. A husband who is anxious about his wife’s health could be driven to activities that improve her health, the authors explain. However, this compensatory effect did not appear for husbands of women with high neuroticism and conscientiousness.

    Looking at 2,006 self-reports from 2,203 couples who participated in the NIA-funded Health and Retirement Study of people ages 50 and older, the researchers found that older adults’ conscientiousness predicted their spouses’ health outcomes above and beyond the spouses’ own personality. “These results suggest that a conscientious partner is beneficial to an individual’s health no matter how conscientious that individual is,” they conclude. “Partners high in conscientiousness might be more reliable and consistent providers of support and might be a source of more constructive advice and feedback about health-related issues.”

    Reference:

    Roberts, B.W., et al. Compensatory conscientiousness and health in older couples. Psychol Sci. 2009. 20(5):553–9.

  • March 15, 2010

    A simple dietary intervention can reduce the risk and severity of chronic diseases and improve health, regardless of a person’s age or current health status, report researchers from the NIA and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Lowering the intake of heat-processed foods, including pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried, or grilled foods, decreases the level of toxins called Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). These products are believed to increase oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.

    The researchers randomly assigned 40 healthy adults in two age groups (18–45 and more than 60 years old) and 9 patients with kidney disease to groups consuming either a low-AGE diet (30–50 percent reduction) or a normal diet. Researchers examined the relationships between age, level of dietary AGE, serum AGE, peripheral mononuclear cell AGER1 (an antioxidant receptor involved in AGE metabolism), and oxidative stress/inflammation before and after reduction of dietary AGE intake and compared with no reduction of AGE.

    AGE toxins reduce levels of AGER1, the scientists found. In addition, levels of AGER1 correlated significantly with levels of circulating AGE and markers of oxidative stress. The researchers concluded that reducing AGE in diets might lower oxidant stress and inflammation and restore levels of AGER1 in both healthy subjects and those with chronic disease, regardless of age.

    Reference: Vlassara, H., et al. Protection against loss of innate defenses in adulthood by low intake: Role of the antiinflammatory AGE Receptor-1. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009. 94(11):4483–91.

  • March 15, 2010

    In humans, genetic mutations usually lead to diseases or increased risk of them. But in the C. elegans roundworm, an induced mutation enabled a longer life span through the surprising transformation of “mortal” somatic cells into “immortal” germline cells. The study, funded in part by the NIA, was published recently in Nature.

    Somatic cells, which are involved in an animal’s growth, metabolism, and behavior, have a limited life span. In contrast, germline cells continue from one generation to the next. In this study, researchers found that certain genetic mutations known to extend the lifespan of C. elegans induced somatic cells to express two genes that are normally active only in reproductive germline cells.

    Normally, germline cells live longer than somatic cells, in part because they are more stable and better able to resist damaging stress. Here, the transformed somatic cells enabled the worms to live much longer than usual. The key was increased resistance to genotoxic stress, the result of new, protective insulin-like signaling pathways that preserved genomic stability, as well as enhanced RNA interference (RNAi). Conversely, the researchers found that inactivating germline-expressed genes in the mutant worms damaged DNA and shortened their normally long life span. “Taken together, these data suggest that soma-to-germline transformation, enhanced RNAi, and longevity share common regulatory mechanisms,” the researchers write.

    The study, led by Dr. Gary Ruvkun of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, aids the understanding of molecular pathways involved in the genetic stability and longevity of mammals. It also may help scientists develop new ways to repair and even regenerate cells and tissues, which could lead to therapies that protect against age-related decline.

    Reference: Curran, S.P., et al. A soma-to-germline transformation in long-lived Caenorhabditis elegans mutants. Nature. 2009 June 25. 549:1079–84.

  • July 5, 2010

    Dr. Robert Butler

    Dr. Robert N. Butler, NIA’s founding director, died July 4, 2010. He was 83.

    Dr. Butler leaves behind an unparalleled professional and personal legacy. There was no greater champion for older people and for the research and policies that could improve their lives. Dr. Butler came to the NIA on May 1, 1976. Two days later, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his passionate presentation of what he termed “ageism,” and which he worked to eradicate throughout his life. At NIA, he set in place a visionary research endeavor, building a rationale and organization for a broad program of basic, biomedical, social, and behavioral research that remains at the core of our efforts today. A geriatric psychiatrist, Dr. Butler was particularly proud of focusing public and research attention to Alzheimer’s disease and dementias.

    He left NIA in 1982 to direct a new Department of Geriatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and continued his advocacy for older people and for the study of aging in founding the International Longevity Center USA.

    “Bob Butler was a pioneer who sought to redefine aging, for both individuals and society,” said NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes. “He challenged the status quo, looking at what can be achieved in later life, not at what might be lost. The field of aging research—and anyone seeking a better life with age—has lost a best friend.”

  • May 24, 2011

    Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally known geriatrician and gerontologist, has been named NIA’s new Scientific Director, effective May 8, 2011.

    Dr. Ferrucci has served in NIA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) as chief of the Longitudinal Studies Section in the Clinical Research Branch since 2002, where he also directs the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA). Under his leadership, the BLSA has been reconceptualized and revitalized, based on new paradigms about how we age. Findings from this research are aimed at developing ways to reduce the burden of disease and disability for older people.

    “I look forward to Dr. Ferrucci’s bringing the same compassion, dedication, and innovation that have characterized his career to this new position of leadership in aging research,” stated NIA Director, Richard J. Hodes, M.D. in an announcement to NIA staff.

    As a physician-researcher with a doctorate in the biology and pathophysiology of aging, Dr. Ferrucci has mentored dozens of scientists and been a resource to gerontologists across the Institute and beyond. His teaching extends to adjunct professorships at both University of Maryland School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. Dr. Ferrucci has served as Editor of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences since 2005 and is Associate Editor of the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, on the editorial board of Geriatría y Gerontología (Barcelona, Spain), and a reviewer for The Wellcome Trust (London, England). He is a member of American Geriatrics Society and the Gerontological Society of America.

    Before coming to NIA, Dr. Ferrucci was Assistant Director and Coordinator of the Laboratory of Clinical Epidemiology at the National Institute for Research and Care on Aging in Italy.

  • May 21, 2011

    NIA has posted new funding policies for FY 2011 for established, new, and early-stage investigators. Research grant applications requesting less than $500,000 in direct costs will be paid through the 11th percentile, and RPGs seeking $500,000 or more will be paid through the 8th percentile. NIA retains its commitment to early-stage and other new investigators, for whom funding lines will be extended 5 and 3 percentage points, respectively.

  • May 25, 2011

    A joint statement from the U.S. and United Kingdom on collaborations in higher education, science and innovation cites the NIA’s role in the development of measures on subjective wellbeing. The statement noted the potential for such research “to generate new insights that will directly inform social and economic policies.”

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