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FY 2015 Program Descriptions and Accomplishments

Biology of Aging Program:
Understanding Aging Processes, Health, and Longevity

Investigators supported by NIA’s Biology of Aging Program seek to improve our understanding of the basic biological mechanisms underlying the process of aging and age-related diseases. Basic biochemical, genetic, and physiological studies are carried out primarily in animal models, including both mammals and non-mammalian organisms (e.g., flies, worms, yeast). The program’s goal is to identify the biological basis for interventions in the process of aging, which is the major risk factor for many chronic diseases affecting the American population. The program also coordinates the NIH Geroscience Interest Group (GSIG), which was established in 2012 to accelerate and coordinate efforts to promote discoveries on the common risks and mechanisms behind age-related diseases and conditions by developing a collaborative framework that includes multiple NIH Institutes and Centers. In 2013, the GSIG, with support from the Alliance for Aging Research and the Gerontological Society of America, hosted a major scientific conference entitled “Advances in Geroscience: Impacts on Healthspan and Chronic Disease.” Ongoing initiatives in this area that will remain active during FY 2015 include the Interventions Testing Program to identify compounds that extend median and/or maximal life span in a mouse model, along with a similar program to identify such compounds in the worm model Caenorhabditis elegans; an initiative to explore the basic biology of aging by investigating the complex interactions at the single-cell level among individual gene products, biochemical pathways, and cell biological mechanisms that impact aging, as well as interactions between tissues; and studies to enhance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that mediate progression of osteoarthritis. Finally, the program coordinates the Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging.

Budget Policy:

The FY 2015 President’s Budget request is $177.191 million, an increase of $0.489 million, or 0.3 percent above the FY 2014 level.

Behavioral and Social Research Program:
Understanding and Addressing the Behavioral, Emotional, and Social Dynamics of Aging

NIA’s Behavioral and Social Research Program supports social and behavioral research to increase our understanding of the processes of aging at the individual, institutional, and societal levels. Research areas include the behavioral, psychological, and social changes individuals experience over the adult lifespan; participation of older people in the economy, families, and communities; the development of interventions to improve the health and cognition of older adults; and the societal impact of population aging. The program also supports research training; development of research resources such as publicly available, cross-nationally comparable studies that support research to understand the sources of international variations in health outcomes; interdisciplinary studies that integrate biological and genetic measures with traditional social, behavioral, and economic measures; longitudinal studies; and interventions to maximize active life and health expectancy. The program coordinates the long-running Health and Retirement Study, the nation’s leading source of combined data on health and financial circumstances of Americans over age 50; the Centers on the Demography and Economics of Aging; the Roybal Centers for Translational Research on Aging; and the Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMARs). Major program activities for FY 2015 will include studies of social neuroscience, the neuroeconomics of aging, and the reasons behind the divergent trends in health and longevity at older ages, both across industrialized nations and across geographical areas in the United States.

Budget Policy:

The FY 2015 President’s Budget request is $182.594 million, an increase of $0.504 million, or 0.3 percent above the FY 2014 level.

Program Portrait: Health Disparities Research at the NIA

FY 2014 Level: $113.7 million
FY 2015 Level: $113.7 million
Difference: $0.0 million

Significant health disparities persist among racial, ethnic, and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups in the United States. Life expectancy among African Americans continues to lag behind that of White Americans, and older Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black men and women are less likely to report good to excellent health than their non-Hispanic White counterparts. African American and Hispanic men and women over age 65 are also more likely than White Americans to report functional limitations. Nearly every aspect of health, well-being, and quality of life may be affected by race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), age, education, occupation, residential segregation, sexual orientation and gender identity, and other as-yet-identified factors.

NIA supports a number of studies to identify, understand, and address health disparities among older Americans. One of the most ambitious is the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Lifespan (HANDLS) study, a 20-year project within the NIA Intramural Research Program to examine the influences of race and SES on the development of age-related health disparities among socioeconomically diverse African Americans and whites in Baltimore. Established in 2004, HANDLS has generated a wealth of information: for example, the investigators have found that self-reported racial discrimination is associated with increased oxidative stress (which is itself associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes), suggesting a cellular pathway through which racial discrimination may affect health. The third wave of data collection was recently completed and a fourth initiated.

Aging health disparity research is conducted throughout the Institute’s research programs. Notably, the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers program’s Satellite Diagnostic and Treatment Centers have successfully recruited racial and ethnic minorities to prevention and treatment clinical trials, and the Health and Retirement Study used funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to increase minority participation. NIA is also exploring interventions to counter the long-term effects of childhood disadvantage, which NIA-supported investigators have shown to influence health in older age. Training and career development initiatives include the Butler-Williams Scholars Program for emerging scientists to receive in-depth training on research design and program development in aging, including issues relevant to aging health disparities, as well as seven Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research , whose mission is to increase the number and diversity of researchers focused on the health of minority elders. Finally, NIA’s communications and outreach programs include materials tailored to health disparities populations, including Spanish-language versions of most Age Pages and a Spanish version of the NIA web site.

Neuroscience Program:
Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Cognitive Decline and Disability

NIA’s Neuroscience Program supports research and training aimed at better understanding normal and pathological changes in the structure and function of the aging nervous system and how such changes affect behavior. The program’s basic mission is to expand knowledge on the aging nervous system to allow improvement in the quality of life of older people. Ongoing activities include basic and clinical studies of the nervous system, clinical trials of treatments and preventive interventions for neurological disease, and epidemiological research to identify risk factors and to establish prevalence and incidence estimates of pathologic conditions. Additionally, this program supports research relevant to problems arising from psychiatric and neurological disorders associated with aging as well as sensory and motor changes that occur with aging. In FY 2015, NIA will partner with the National Eye Institute to support studies on the biological mechanisms underlying common age-related eye diseases. NIA is also the lead federal agency for research on Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The Institute supports a national network of Alzheimer’s Disease Centers to translate research advances into improved diagnosis and care of AD patients while pursing development and testing of effective preventive and treatment interventions for AD, as well as initiatives aimed at improving our understanding of the disease.

Budget Policy:

The FY 2015 President’s Budget request is $510.373 million, an increase of $1.407 million, or 0.3 percent above the FY 2014 level.

Program Portrait: Ongoing and Planned Initiatives under the National Action Plan on Alzheimer’s Disease

FY 2014 Level: $405.8 million
FY 2015 Level: $405.8 million
Difference: $0.0 million

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has been a leader in the implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act and the development of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Recent initiatives have boosted support for AD research, including the NIH Director’s allocation of an additional $50 million in FY 2012 and $40 million in FY 2013 for the disease. The estimated total NIH-wide support for Alzheimer’s Disease in FY 2015 is over $566 million. The recent launch of the International Alzheimer’s Disease Research Portfolio (IADRP), a publicly available database to capture the full spectrum of current AD research investments and resources throughout the world, will facilitate coordination of these efforts.

Recently, NIA awarded several major new grants supporting translational and clinical research aimed at the disease. These are among the first projects to be developed with direction from the 2012 AD Research Summit, and focus on identifying, characterizing, and validating novel therapeutic targets and identifying possible ways to stop disease progression. All the clinical studies will be in very early stages of the disease, when intervention may be most effective. Researchers will:

  • Test new anti-amyloid-beta drugs in volunteers who have an inherited form of AD
  • Test an anti-amyloid drug in cognitively normal, at-risk volunteers
  • Evaluate the safety and tolerability of increasing doses of allopregnanolone, a natural brain steroid, in treating mild cognitive impairment and AD
  • Determine whether recombinant sargramostim, a drug that stimulates the innate immune system, clears abnormal deposits of amyloid before they cause damage, preventing cognitive decline or improving cognition
  • Discover, characterize, and validate complex molecular networks and candidate genes that influence susceptibility to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Apply innovative analytical methods to large-scale molecular, cellular, and clinical data to construct biological network models and gain new insights into the complex mechanisms of the disease

All of these projects will be active during FY 2015.

Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology Program:
Reducing Disease and Disability among Older People

As we age, our risk for many types of disease and/or disability increases dramatically. NIA’s Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology Program supports research on health, disease, and disability in the aged (other than neurodegeneration, which is the focus of the NIA’s Neuroscience Program). Areas of focus include age-related physical changes and their relationship to health outcomes, the maintenance of health and the development of disease, and specific age-related risk factors for disease. Program staff work closely with other NIH Institutes to coordinate research on diseases and conditions that are common among older people or represent a growing threat. For example, an ongoing collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases addresses the increasing incidence of HIV/AIDS among older Americans, and NIA and other NIH Institutes have recently established an initiative, which will be active in FY 2015, to advance the science of palliative care among older patients. The program also plans and administers clinical trials for a number of age-related conditions. In addition, the program coordinates the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers Program, the goal of which is to increase scientific knowledge leading to better ways to maintain or restore independence in older persons.

Budget Policy:

The FY 2015 President’s Budget request is $137.815 million, an increase of $0.380 million, or 0.3 percent above the FY 2014 level.

Program Portrait: Women’s Health Research at the National Institute on Aging

FY 2014 Level: $290.8 million
FY 2015 Level: $290.8 million
Difference: $0.0 million

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) supports a diverse portfolio of research on older women’s health, including studies of reproductive and cognitive health; diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect older women; economic issues affecting older women; and sex and gender differences across all of these domains.

NIA’s flagship study of women’s health is the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), which evaluates changes in biological, behavioral, and psychosocial parameters in a multi-ethnic cohort of women as they transition from pre- to post- menopause. Since its inception in 1994, the SWAN Study has provided insight into many factors that influence health and disease risk among midlife women. For example, the SWAN investigators have identified an array of risk factors for bothersome hot flashes, including obesity, smoking, and low socioeconomic status. The study is co-sponsored by the National Institute of Nursing Research, the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

NIA also supports studies to determine whether menopausal hormone therapy, which may have harmful effects on cognition if taken during the post-menopausal period, may benefit cognition during a critical “window of opportunity” near menopause. A randomized clinical trial of estrogen therapy in younger postmenopausal women, ages 50–55, recently found no long-term risk or benefit to cognitive function. In NIA’s MS FLASH (Menopause Strategies: Finding Lasting Answers for Symptoms and Health) Network, investigators are studying a variety of interventions for common menopausal symptoms; the investigators have found that the antidepressant escitalopram can reduce hot flashes and improve quality of life in women around menopause. NIA also supports studies examining sleep patterns and factors that may affect sleep during the menopausal transition as well as studies of sex differences in risk for age-related cognitive decline and cognitive impairment.

Intramural Research at NIA

Investigators with NIA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) conduct research in the areas of basic, behavioral, clinical, epidemiologic, and translational research. High priority research endeavors and areas of specific focus include: Molecular and Cellular Biology, including caloric restriction, cell cycle control, signal transduction, DNA damage and repair, physiology, and medicinal chemistry; Neuroscience, including neurodegenerative diseases, drug design and development, and neuronal cell apoptosis; Genetics, particularly genetic determinants of aging as an integrated part of human development; Behavioral Research, including personality, cognition, and psychophysiology; Clinical and Translational Research in cardiology, oncology, immunology, neurology, and endocrinology; and Epidemiology, including studies of frailty, cognition, body composition, disability, and molecular biomarkers of aging. The clinical research effort focuses on the translation of basic research findings, prevention, and therapeutic clinical trials focused on age-associated diseases, modulation of treatment efficacy and toxicity in older patients, and establishment of and maintenance of diverse longitudinal cohorts for aging research. Many studies focus on common age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, and diabetes. Others, such as the groundbreaking Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, explore the determinants of healthy aging. Work is also continuing on the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity Across the Life Span (HANDLS) study, which is examining the influences of race and socioeconomic status on the development of age-related health disparities among socioeconomically diverse African Americans and whites living in Baltimore.

Budget Policy:

The FY 2015 President’s Budget request is $119.763 million, an increase of $1.186 million, or 1.0 percent above the FY 2014 level. Additional funds will be used to partially offset personnel costs and IT infrastructure improvements.

Research Management and Support (RMS)

NIA RMS activities provide administrative, budgetary, logistical, and scientific support in the review, award, and monitoring of research grants, training awards and research and development contracts. RMS functions also encompass strategic planning, coordination, and evaluation of the Institute’s programs, regulatory compliance, international coordination, and liaison with other Federal agencies, Congress, and the public. The Institute currently oversees more than 1,507 research project grants and centers, as well as 573 full-time training positions and 103 research and support contracts.

Budget Policy:

The FY 2015 President’s Budget request is $43.144 million, an increase of $0.427 million, or 1.0 percent above the FY 2014 level. Additional funds will be used to partially offset personnel costs and IT infrastructure improvements.