Just last month, NIA-funded researchers reported on a relationship between racial discrimination and telomere length among a community sample of African American men. Telomere length, of course, has been associated with aging. And the study found that men with more experience of discrimination and more internalized racial bias had shorter telomeres, thus, perhaps, contributing to premature aging. While these types of findings need further research to determine causality, this fascinating finding illustrates the importance of research on health disparities in the basic biology of aging. Disparities are the focus of the NIA Office of Special Populations.
What is the Office of Special Populations and what can it do for you?
The NIA Office of Special Populations has two primary goals:
- fostering careers of scientists underrepresented in the field of aging research
- focusing on health disparities research both within NIA and in the context of NIH-wide efforts
Career development toward a more diverse research workforce was a hallmark of J Taylor Harden’s great leadership of this office. As the new director, I plan to continue her mission through the Butler-Williams Scholars Program (formerly the NIA Summer Institute on Aging Research). Indeed, the 2014 application is now available, so I encourage you to apply, or to circulate the link to others who might be interested. There’s also a series of webinars in the works to help connect the next generation to important NIA information and opportunities. The first one of these, "Options for New Investigators: Grant Mechanisms," is set for March 6, 2014.
We will also expand opportunities to link emerging investigators, particularly those invested in health disparities work, to helpful research and training resources at NIH and beyond. For us, addressing health disparities in aging research involves:
- investigating differences in life expectancy among American populations
- identifying factors that lead to variances in health status among Americans age 65 and older
The NIA Office of Special Populations will increase its promotion of disparities research directly, working specifically across NIH and with its National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. (See NIMHD’s strategic direction for determining priority populations for health disparities research.) We also hope to track NIA’s progress for supporting research on factors that diminish lifespan and health among specific groups of Americans. For example, the Office of Special Populations is working with NIA staff to develop new initiatives for stimulating health disparities research in priority areas identified by each NIA Division. So look out for more opportunities coming soon.
I look forward to being part of these and NIA’s other endeavors that highlight and address health disparities in aging.
If you have thoughts on the NIA Office of Special Populations and its work, please get in touch with me by commenting below.