The National Institute on Aging (NIA) at NIH has named its prestigious Summer Institute on Aging Research after NIA’s first two directors—Dr. Robert N. Butler and Dr. T. Franklin Williams. The week-long training program for early and mid-career scientists will now be known as the Butler-Williams Scholars Program, and participants from here on will be recognized as Butler-Williams Scholars.
The naming, announced at the conclusion of the 2013 Summer Institute on July 19, is a tribute to the legacies of Butler and Williams in aging research. “Both Dr. Butler and Dr. Williams saw the aging of individuals and society as an opportunity for change and sought to reset our thinking of what advancing age can be,” said Richard J. Hodes, M.D., NIA director. “I am pleased that their names will be permanently linked to this important and forward-looking program.”
Butler, who came to the NIA as its founding director in 1974, built the framework for a broad research endeavor in basic, clinical and behavioral and social research that remains the core of NIA’s research program today. A geriatric psychiatrist, he was particularly proud of focusing public and research attention on Alzheimer’s disease and dementias. Butler served as director of the institute until 1982. He died on July 4, 2010, at the age of 83.
Williams came to the NIA in 1983 and developed and further expanded these visionary programs. During Williams’ tenure, the NIA launched several groundbreaking programs, including the Alzheimer's Disease Centers network and the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study. He also established the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers, which conduct research on diseases and conditions that threaten independent living. Williams left the NIA in 1991. He died November 25, 2011, one day before his 90th birthday.
Both Butler and Williams were early and leading proponents of geriatrics as a medical specialty, urging medical schools to focus on research and teaching related to the health care needs of older people. In 1986, highlighting what NIA itself could do to train the biomedical workforce for an aging society, Williams established the Summer Institute on Aging Research.
The annual Butler-Williams Scholars Program includes lectures, seminars, and small group discussions in research design relative to aging, including issues relevant to aging of ethnic and racial minorities. The week features interactive sessions with NIA staff and leading researchers in a variety of disciplines covering topics on the biology of aging; genetics and Alzheimer’s disease; and health, behavior, and aging. Discussion sessions focus on methodological approaches and interventions, as well as development of research interests and advice on preparing and submitting research grant applications to NIA.
Applications are accepted from emerging researchers, including those with previously limited involvement in aging research. The program is an offering of the NIA Office of Special Populations, and researchers with an interest in health disparities research are encouraged to apply. Applicants from diverse backgrounds, including individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, individuals with disabilities and women are always encouraged to apply for NIH support.
Between 25-30 participants are chosen each year. The interaction and networking among the attendees has been a lasting—and fun—part of the program, and participants have already established their own community of “alumni.”
“Both Drs. Butler and Williams were pioneers in aging research who cared deeply about its future,” said NIA Deputy Director Marie A. Bernard, M.D. “We hope and expect that the Butler-Williams Scholars will become the future leaders in the field, emulating the examples of the program’s namesakes, as innovators and advocates on behalf of older people.”