Announcements

  • January 10, 2012

    A nicotine skin patch may improve cognition in older people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition marked by memory loss that often leads to Alzheimer’s dementia, according to findings from a small pilot clinical trial reported in the Jan. 10, 2012 print issue of Neurology. Nearly 70 volunteers, all non-smokers, wore either a nicotine patch or a placebo patch during the six month trial supported by the NIH. Researchers measured the volunteers’ cognitive performance at the start, at three months and at the end of the trial. They found the nicotine group showed significantly improved cognition during tests of mental speed, attention, and memory, and that the nicotine patch was safe to use for the trial period.  Additionally, the nicotine group participants reported improved cognition, which was also noted by their caregivers.  While the results of this small pilot trial were promising, the findings are not definitive and further investigation of a nicotine patch treatment for MCI in larger studies is warranted. Paul Newhouse, M.D., now of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, led the trial while at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, both parts of NIH at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    Reference:

    Newhouse P., et al. Nicotine treatment of mild cognitive impairment: a six-month double-blind pilot clinical trial. Neurology January 10, 2012 78:91-101.

  • February 15, 2011

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expanding support nationally to caregivers of veterans with Alzheimer’s disease with a program developed by NIA-funded researchers. The REACH VA (Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health in VA) program is the first national clinical implementation of a proven behavioral intervention for caregiver burden and stress. Results of the original REACH program were published in 2006.

    REACH VA involved 127 caregivers connected to 24 VA medical centers. The median age for the caregiver was 72 and the majority of the participants were spouses. For 6 months, the REACH VA caregivers were provided with a number of options based on their needs: individual in-home and telephone counseling sessions; telephone support group sessions; a caregiver quick guide with 48 behavioral and stress topics; education on safety and patient behavior management; and training for their individual health and well-being.

    Caregivers for veterans with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia typically reported feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, cut off from family and friends, lonely, prone to bouts of crying and having worse physical health than the year before. After participating in the REACH VA program, caregivers reported their burden reduced; drops in depressive symptoms; fewer frustrations, including those that have potential for abuse; and decreases in dementia-related behaviors from the veterans they cared for. Caregivers also reported they were able to spend fewer hours per day devoted to caregiving duties.

    Reference:

    Nichols LO, Martindale-Adams J, Burns R, Graney MJ, Zuber J. Translation of a Dementia Caregiver Support Program in a Health Care System—REACH VA. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(4):353-359.

  • February 19, 2011

    Parkinson’s disease, a progressive movement disorder, was historically considered a nongenetic disease. Now, in the largest genome-wide association study to date of Parkinson’s disease, scientists show genetics play a substantial role in the disease. They have identified five new genomic regions in people of European ancestry and confirmed six previously identified regions that may contribute to increased disease risk.

    The study, funded in part by the NIH, involved leading Parkinson’s research centers in the United States and Europe working together to pool DNA data from more than 33,000 participants. The researchers first scanned the genome to locate regions containing gene variants associated with Parkinson’s. To confirm these findings, they then looked for these suspect risk variants in DNA from an independent group of people with Parkinson’s or free of the disease. Based on these 11 risk variants, they found that those individuals who were in the top 20 percent in terms of genetic risk were more than two and a half times as likely to have the disease than those who were in the bottom 20 percent of the genetic risk spectrum.

     “Up until just 10 or 15 years ago, the field did not think genetics played much of a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Andrew Singleton, chief of NIA’s Laboratory of Neurogenetics and co-author of the study. “This work not only increases our understanding of how genes are involved in the disease process, but with more research, may one day result in the development of better diagnostics and therapeutic interventions for this debilitating disease.”

    Reference:

    International Parkinson Disease Genomics Consortium. Imputation of sequence variants for identification of genetic risks for Parkinson's disease: a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies. Lancet. 2011 Feb 19;377(9766):641-9. Epub 2011 Feb 1.

  • July 7, 2011

    The first results of the 2008 Oregon health insurance lottery study, supported in part by the NIA, indicate that people enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program reported improved health and well-being, as well as reduced financial strain. They also saw an increase in use of primary and preventive care as well as hospitalizations. Program expenditures rose as a result of the rise in utilization. The study results were reported in a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper, in a collaboration between NBER researchers and the state of Oregon.

    The Oregon program randomly assigned 10,000 low-income uninsured adults to the state’s Medicaid program. Participants were chosen from about 90,000 people who signed up for the lottery program. After 1 year, the study found that enrollment in Medicaid increased the likelihood of using outpatient care by 35 percent, using prescription drugs by 15 percent, and having a regular office or clinic for primary health care by 70 percent among those with insurance. The probability of having an unpaid medical bill sent to a collection agency decreased by 25 percent among those in the program. The probability of people reporting themselves in good to excellent health (compared with fair or poor health) increased by 25 percent among those with insurance. The increased use of health care services resulted in an estimated 25 percent increase in annual health care expenditures.

    The researchers note that these findings are part of a broader study that will continue to follow the participants in the program. Ongoing work will provide more information on the effects of expanded insurance, including specific clinical indicators and health outcomes measured over 2 years; the current study covers the first year of the lottery. Together, this information will facilitate the evaluation of costs and benefits of insurance expansions.

    Reference:

    Finkelstein, A., et al. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment: Evidence from the First Year, NBER Working Paper 17190, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., July 7, 2011. www.nber.org.

  • July 28, 2011

    Valter Longo and colleagues proposed that a treatment used to prolong life in some laboratory organisms could offer protection against the negative effects of chemotherapy.  That treatment is fasting, a special type of dietary restriction. Dietary restriction provides adequate nutrition at lower-than-average calories, either through special daily meals or intermittent fasting.

    In some of the earlier studies of dietary restriction in animal models, researchers measured resistance to stress as a way of predicting potential impact on lifespan and health.  Successful resistance to short-term stress caused by reduction in calories typically correlates with longer life and better health. Researchers have also found in some models that fasting for relatively short periods of time – or months of dietary restriction – actually enhanced normal cells’ resistance to stress, but did not have an effect on cancer cells.

    Based on these observations, Longo and colleagues hypothesized that they could use this “differential stress resistance” induced by fasting to reduce chemotherapy-related stress on normal cells, without jeopardizing the treatment’s efficacy for killing cancerous cells. Initial results in mice were encouraging: the mice survived and the chemotherapy was still effective. A subsequent but still very preliminary clinical study showed that patients who fasted in conjunction with chemotherapy reported fewer side-effects without loss of efficacy. The clinical study has been expanded to an early phase clinical trial.

    References:

    Raffaghello L, et al. Fasting and differential chemotherapy protection in patientsCell Cycle 2010 9: 4474 – 4476.

    Lee C, Longo VD. Fasting vs. dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients. Oncogene 2011 30: 3305 – 3316.

     

  • November 17, 2011

    Certain behaviors and exposure to environmental elements can have a lasting impact on gene expression by modifying chromatin at both the DNA and protein levels. These modifications comprise the field of epigenetics. Because older people have literally a lifetime of exposure to the environment, it is likely that epigenetics might play a crucial role in aging. Yet, studies of the epigenetics of aging are just in their infancy.

    Researchers have found that reducing a certain epigenetic modification of proteins associated with DNA in C. elegans (a type of round worm) leads to a longer lifespan. In the November 17, 2011, issue of Nature, A. Brunet’s group at Stanford University reports that lifespan extension (resulting from the reduction of this particular epigenetic modification) is inheritable for three generations. Breeding the worms that had the extended lifespan with wild-type worms resulted in offspring that had a wild-type genome; but, surprisingly, the offspring also lived longer than normal, wild-type worms.  Offspring of the second generation of worms also had a longer lifespan, as did the generation after that. The inheritance of longer life did eventually subside after four generations.

    It is too early to apply this finding to human aging, but the work reveals the possibility that good (or bad) habits can have a lasting effect not only on health and lifespan, but possibly on the health and lifespan of succeeding generations.  More research is needed to determine the molecular mechanisms, and to establish whether the findings can be applied to more complex organisms.

    Reference:

    Greer EL, Maures TJ, Ucar D, Hauswirth AG, Mancini E, Lim JP, Benayoun BA, Shi Y, Brunet A. Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature. 2011 Nov 17;479(7373):302-3.

     

  • December 6, 2011

    The RAND Survey Meta Data Repository provides researchers with information on survey content from the international collection of longitudinal aging studies harmonized to the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. It includes a digital library of survey questions, a search engine for finding comparable questions across the surveys, and a set of identically defined variables for cross-country analysis for over ten studies (and growing). For more information, please visit the Mega Meta homepage.

  • December 6, 2011

    Public data from the American Time Use Survey new well-being module is available online at www.bls.gov/tus/wbdatafiles.htm. NIA is interested in applications using this dataset. Investigators interested in using this data may wish to use the Secondary Analyses of Social and Behavioral Datasets in Aging (R03).

    NIA continues to encourage investigator-initiated applications relevant to the themes outlined in the (expired) RFA-AG-11-003 Subjective Well-being: Advances in Measurement and Applications to Aging. Please use the R01 or R03 Parent Program Announcements for your proposals.

  • November 2, 2011

    Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN have found a causal relationship between senescent cells and certain age-related diseases in a mouse model, according to a report in Nature. While research on cell cultures has long suggested that senescent cells have a role in aging, the nature of this connection in live animals was less clear. The new finding suggests that cell senescence may be a fundamental mechanism that drives aging. The study was supported in part by the NIA.

    In cell senescence, the cell turns off its capacity to produce new cells. This typically happens after a cell has divided so many times that it is in jeopardy of becoming abnormal and potentially dangerous. Thus, cell senescence is considered an anti-cancer mechanism. But the senescent cell, although different from its earlier self, is still alive and it works on many levels, by both sending and receiving signals.

    In the Mayo Clinic study, researchers designed a process to eliminate all senescent cells in a strain of mice. Removing senescent cells delayed the onset of disease-related changes in fat tissue, skeletal muscle, and eye tissue. In addition, removing senescent cells later in the life of the mice was found to slow the progression of already established age-related disorders. 

    Reference: Baker DJ, et al. Clearance of p16Ink4a-positive senescent cells delays aging-associated disorders. Nature. 2011 Nov 2;479(7372):232-6.

  • December 1, 2011

    T. Franklin Williams, M.D., the second director of the National Institute on Aging, died on November 25, 2011, at his home in Rochester, New York. He would have been 90 years old on November 26. Dr. Williams is credited with bringing to aging research a perspective that sought to distinguish the effects of aging from those of preventable or treatable health conditions that affect older people.

    Dr. Williams was named NIA Director in July 1983, a position he held until 1991. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Williams was a professor of preventive, family, and rehabilitative medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He served as the hospital’s medical director from 1968 until 1983, and spearheaded the development of the university’s geriatrics program. Dr. Williams returned to Rochester following his retirement from NIA, where he continued as a scholar, teacher and attending physician. In 1995, he was appointed Distinguished Physician at the Canandaigua, N.Y., Veterans Administration Medical Center. From 1992 through 2002, he also served as scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research.

    “Frank Williams was an outstanding geriatrician, researcher, and administrator who was inspired by the possibilities of advanced age,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “He wanted to know how it was possible to achieve and maintain high functioning, good health, and a sharp mind well into late life. He achieved this ideal for himself and worked hard to achieve it for many others. He will be greatly missed.”

    During Dr. Williams’ tenure at NIA, the institute established a number of groundbreaking programs, including the Alzheimer's Disease Centers, where researchers focus on basic through clinical studies; the Federal Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, an organization of more than 35 federal agencies that collect and analyze data on older people; and the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, which conducts outreach and provides information about Alzheimer's disease to health professionals, patients and their families, and the general public. Under Dr. Williams’ leadership, the institute began the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study, which examines how older adults’ health interacts with social, economic, and psychological factors. He also established the Geriatric Research and Training Centers, later renamed the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers, charged with conducting research on diseases and conditions that threaten independent living.

    “Frank’s strong vision and leadership for NIA came from his deep appreciation of aging as an essential and valued part of life,” said Evan Hadley, M.D., director of NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology. “He often cautioned against references to the “elderly” as a group inherently different from those of us who haven’t yet reached old age. In particular, he rejected common assumptions that older persons are inherently sicker or less capable.”

    Dr. Williams is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, the former Catharine Carter Catlett, a medical social worker who joined Dr. Williams on his trips around the world, gathering information on models of approaches to aging and working to implement new approaches in this country. He is also survived by two children, Mary Wright Williams Montague and Thomas Nelson Williams, four grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren.

Pages