In September 2003, the NIH Director announced the creation of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a series of initiatives to transform the nation’s medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from the laboratory into clinical practice. A number of the NIH Roadmap initiatives are particularly relevant to aging research. For example:
- The Molecular Libraries initiative will offer biomedical researchers access to small molecules that can be used as probes to study cellular pathways in greater depth. These probes can be used to help assess the effects of an intervention (see, for example, “Mimicking Caloric Restriction to Increase Longevity in Animal Models,” page 9). Small molecule development is also crucial to the development of drugs for a variety of age-related conditions. And the development of small molecule libraries will speed the refinement of molecular imaging techniques, including those for imaging brain function, which may greatly enhance our ability to diagnose and monitor neurological conditions such as AD.
- A major component of the NIH Roadmap is Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise. Clinical trials are necessary to the development of new treatments for age-related conditions, but such studies among older people are often complicated by the presence of concurrent medical conditions, or the fact that study participants may be taking several medications. One answer is the frequent use of populations established for longitudinal studies of one endpoint or condition to study an additional condition – for example, to assess AD risk factors within the context of a study of cardiovascular health. Promoting the use of common data sets and compatible databases in multiple studies, as the NIA is currently doing through its newly-established Longevity Consortium (page 14) and through the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center, will facilitate this.
- Clinical Research Training is a critical need in aging research. The NIA supports a variety of training programs in age-related research, including the Paul B. Beeson Career Development Awards in Aging, which provides support to junior to mid-career faculty members in strong research environments to enable them to gain skills and experience in clinical aging research and to establish an independent program of research in this field. However, additional opportunities for training are needed.
- Geriatrics researchers are recognizing an emerging emphasis on Interdisciplinary Research in aging. Studies of interactions between biology and behavior, and economics and demographics, continue to offer unique insights regarding the behavioral, social, economic, and health consequences of aging.
In this narrative, the Institute focuses on recent progress and future directions for research in four key areas: Section I) Alzheimer’s disease and the neuroscience of aging; Section II) reducing disease and disability; Section III) the biology of aging; and Section IV) the behavioral and social aspects of growing older. NIA-supported research on health disparities is described in Section V.