Announcements

  • October 16, 2014

    NIA-supported researchers recently developed an innovative method to culture human brain cells in the laboratory and then modeled, for the first time, the cascade of cellular changes involved in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings support the “amyloid hypothesis,” a 30-year-old theory that the build-up of beta-amyloid protein in the brain kick starts the toxic changes that lead to tau tangles, and ultimately, cell death. The results by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston, were published online Oct. 12 in Nature.

    Drs. Rudolph Tanzi and Doo Yeon Kim of MGH’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit developed a petri-dish model that is three-dimensional and gelatinous—an environment that more closely resembles neurons in the living brain than the standard tissue culture methods. The investigators grew human neural stem cells carrying variants of two genes, amyloid precursor protein and presenilin 1, to develop cultured neurons similar to brain cells in people with early-onset, familial Alzheimer’s disease.

    After 6 weeks in the culture dish, the researchers performed a series of tests that replicated, for the first time in a laboratory, the sequence of events associated with early-onset familial Alzheimer’s pathology in the human brain. Treatment with beta- and gamma-secretase inhibitors dramatically decreased beta-amyloid deposits and tau levels in the cells, offering further evidence in support of the amyloid hypothesis. The findings also provide insight into other questions, such as whether toxic tau tangles are caused directly by beta-amyloid accumulation or form independently.

    Unlike previous studies using mouse and other models, the new culture system appears to have allowed the formation of both beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Because the new system is less costly and takes less time to screen promising drugs than animal models, the researchers expect it will speed drug development in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

    Reference: Choi SH, et al. A three-dimensional human neural cell culture model of Alzheimer’s disease. Nature published online Oct 12, 2014.doi: 10.1038/nature13800

  • October 9, 2014

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    What does a Scientific Review Officer (SRO) do, exactly? What do SROs work on, whom do they work with, and what are they responsible for? Kimberly Firth, a new Scientific Review Officer for NIA’s Division of Extramural Activities, provides answers to these questions in a new blog post about the responsibilities and rewards of being an SRO. Firth discusses how SROs manage the first level of review required by the two-tier NIH peer review system for grant applications, and goes into details about the specific duties of an SRO at NIA.

    Blog post - Musings of a newbie Scientific Review Officer (SRO)

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • October 2, 2014

    Frailty and dementia often signal increased risk for mortality among older people. But can the loss of olfaction—the sense of smell—also be a significant indicator of mortality risk? An NIH-supported study involving thousands of older people showed those who could no longer detect or distinguish odors were four times more likely to die within five years than those with normal olfaction. The findings are the first to indicate the importance of olfaction in mortality risk for older adults.

    Dr. Jayant M. Pinto led the University of Chicago researchers reporting the findings in the Oct. 1, 2014 online issue of PLOS ONE. The work was funded in part by NIA, the Office of Women’s Health Research, the Office of AIDS Research, and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, all at the National Institutes of Health.

    The researchers tested the olfaction of some 3,000 older volunteers in the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, a University of Chicago-run longitudinal study seeking to better understand the various factors that contribute to the health and well-being of older, community-dwelling Americans. Study participants, aged 57 to 85, were interviewed at home and asked to identify five odors (rose, leather, orange, fish, and peppermint) embedded in felt-tipped pens. The test results were rated from a total loss of olfaction, to some decline, to normal function. Five years later, the researchers examined mortality rates among the volunteers.

    The results were dramatic, even when controlling for demographic factors, such as age, gender, race and socioeconomic status, as well as medical conditions, smoking, and alcohol use. At the end of the five-year study, 39 percent of volunteers with no sense of smell had died, compared to 19 percent of those with declines in olfaction and 10 percent of those with normal olfaction. The results suggest that olfactory function is a strong indicator of risk for mortality in older people.

    Reference: Pinto JM, et al. Olfactory dysfunction predicts 5-year mortality in older adults. PLoS One. Oct 1, 2014. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107541

  • October 1, 2014

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    Are you interested in the genetics of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease? Did you know that the NIA has a database that gives you access to a broad range of genetics and genomics data? It’s called the NIA Genetics of Alzheimer's Disease Data Storage Site, or NIAGADS, and it is an essential research resource for scientists investigating Alzheimer’s disease. In a new blog post, Dr. Marilyn Miller, Program Director for the NIA’s Division of Neuroscience, discusses the data available to investigators via NIAGADS, and the partnerships that support the database. Dr. Miller goes into detail about important aspects of NIAGADS, such as the Genomics Database and new data that will be available soon.

    Blog post – NIAGADS! We have data!

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • September 24, 2014

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    During the fiscal year 2014, NIA was affected by a number of events and challenges. As the fiscal year winds down, Dr. Robin Barr, director of the Division of Extramural Activities, looks back on the changes and surprises that occurred, including an expanded research agenda, a budget increase, and an unexpected influx of well-written applications.

    Read the full blog post: Oh, what a year it was!

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • September 18, 2014

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    Every third week in September, the NIA celebrates National Postdoc Appreciation Week. This week’s blog post thanks postdocs for their vital contributions to aging research. The post, by Dr. Jennifer Illuzzi, a postdoc with NIA’s Intramural Research Program, discusses the many ways postdoctoral fellows make significant contributions, and highlights the opportunities available for postdocs at the NIH and NIA.

    Read the full blog post: We appreciate postdocs

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • September 15, 2014

    Researchers have long wondered why some older people remain cognitively normal despite having abnormal levels of beta-amyloid in their brains, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. While research has shown that older adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which often leads to Alzheimer’s, frequently have increased activity in the hippocampus compared to their cognitively healthy peers, scientists questioned what the hyperactivity represented. Was it helping to compensate for declining brain function or signaling onset of the disease? New NIA-supported brain imaging research has deepened our understanding of this complex puzzle by showing increased activity in several cortical regions of the brain may help compensate for amyloid build-up and help prevent onset of dementia or slow rate of progression.

    Dr. Jeremy Elman, of the Life Sciences Division of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and colleagues at the Helen Willis Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, reported the findings online Sept. 14, 2014 in Nature Neuroscience. The work was funded by NIA and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), under a joint effort since 2007 to identify age-related changes in the brain and cognition.

    The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the brain activity of volunteers tasked with memorizing pictures of scenery and then asked the group questions about the images. The volunteers included 22 young adults and 49 cognitively normal older people; among the latter, positron emission tomography (PET) brain imaging showed 16 with abnormal levels of beta-amyloid and 33 free of deposits. While both groups of older volunteers did equally well in remembering the images, those with beta-amyloid in their brains had greater brain activity while performing the memorization task. The researchers also noted that in both young adults and in older volunteers with abnormal levels of beta-amyloid, greater activity in the visual and memory areas of the brain correlated directly with success in recalling picture details. In contrast, for older adults free of amyloid, lower brain activity in areas not generally associated with vision and memory predicted how well they remembered details.

    The researchers concluded increased brain activity in older people with amyloid deposits may help compensate for the neurodegeneration wrought by Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, the study adds a new piece to the complex puzzle of Alzheimer’s with the finding that older brains with amyloid function more like younger brains than do older brains free of amyloid. More research is needed to explore this dynamic as well as the various and complex mechanisms involved in Alzheimer’s and healthy cognitive aging.

    Reference: Elman J.A., et al. Neural compensation in older people with brain amyloid-β deposition. Nature Neuroscience. Published online Sept. 14, 2014. doi:10.1038/nn.3806

  • September 10, 2014

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    The NIH announced a change in grant application resubmission policy in April. With the policy change, investigators now have a real choice when it comes to revising a grant application that is not funded. A new NIA blog post may assist these investigators with important decisions about their next steps. Dr. Robin Barr, director of the Division of Extramural Activities, compares initial grant applications and revisions of those applications and discusses success rates for various types of investigators. Please read this blog post for more on the policy change and NIA data on probability of funding.

    Read the full blog post: To resubmit or not?

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

  • September 10, 2014

    Many people who have been affected by Alzheimer’s wonder how they can help combat this devastating disease. Volunteering to participate in research is one powerful way. Right now, at least 70,000 volunteers are needed for more than 150 active Alzheimer’s and related clinical trials and studies in the United States. All kinds of people, including healthy older adults, can join in this critical research.

    cover of publicationParticipating in Alzheimer’s Research: For Yourself and Future Generations, a new booklet from the National Institute on Aging at NIH, explores:

    • how to find Alzheimer's and related studies that might be right for you
    • benefits and potential risks to consider
    • what happens when you join a trial or study
    • how safety is protected
    • questions to ask

    Read, download, or order free copies of Participating in Alzheimer’s Research online or call the ADEAR Center at 1-800-438-4380.

    Stay connected! Subscribe to NIA's Alzheimer's Clinical Trials list to receive monthly e-alerts about new trials and studies. 

  • August 27, 2014

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    Every summer, early career researchers from diverse backgrounds come from all over the U.S. to spend a week at the National Institute on Aging’s 2014 Butler-Williams Scholars Program. They explore the best of NIA’s science, learn about grantsmanship, share challenges, and make new connections.

    What is important to these early career researchers? Dr. Marie Bernard, deputy director of the NIA, examines changing trends in a new blog post. “We have to know these things in order to get the right people in the research training pipeline, and to convince them to stay in research,” Dr. Bernard emphasizes, “The young researchers I’m interacting with have big ideas that will remake research and medicine.”

    Read the full blog post: The next generation: what will it take to keep them in research?

    The NIA blog publishes weekly with information on grants and funding policy, research priorities, scientific meetings, and topics of interest to researchers and others in the scientific community. Subscribe to get it weekly in your email inbox, or grab the RSS feed.

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