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Scientific Workforce Diversity and Health Disparities Research Programs

Diverse group of scientists working in a lab

With the goal of advancing the most innovative scientific ideas from investigators of all ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, NIA works to diversify the aging research workforce, both within our institute and through the grantees we support. Additionally, we are committed to eliminating health disparities in research through a variety of ways, including novel recruitment initiatives to incorporate diverse participants in our clinical studies and trials.

NIA further seeks to understand the environmental, sociocultural, behavioral, and biological drivers of health inequities and disparities related to aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and related dementias. We support research to develop strategies for the improvement of health among midlife and older adults in underrepresented groups who experience health inequities or disparities. These priorities are outlined in NIA’s strategic directions for health disparities research and reflected within NIA’s Health Disparities Research Framework.

Training and Career Development

NIA leads initiatives, co-funds programs, and participates in NIH-wide efforts to improve research workforce diversity by increasing the number of trained researchers from underrepresented groups who can become leaders in aging research. Learn more about NIA’s training opportunities for special populations.

NIA Office of Special Populations Diversity Initiatives

NIA’s Office of Special Populations (OSP) serves to support and strengthen the institute’s work to understand and address health disparities in older adults.

The annual NIA Director’s Regional Meeting provides an opportunity for scientists who might be less aware of NIA’s funding opportunities in aging research, and/or are working at universities that may not have received significant NIH funding in the past, to interact with NIA leadership. Led by OSP, agendas feature types of awards available to researchers and trainees new to aging research or interested in health disparities research, as well as to those who are underrepresented in aging research. NIA’s goals are to provide information on existing opportunities for research and training; provide hands-on technical assistance in grant writing; solicit advice on the design of new research opportunities; and discuss strategies for recruiting underrepresented students and investigators to aging research.

For decades, NIA’s National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA) has convened the Task Force on Minority Aging Research as part of its meetings three times each year. Managed by OSP and the Minority Working Group, this task force was created to advise NACA on initiatives to increase the representation of minorities in aging research. It provides a quarterly summary of NIA’s diversity programs and initiatives, including updates on meetings and conferences, diversity and health disparities research, and training programs and initiatives. NIA often invites renown health disparities in aging researchers to present at NACA.

Butler-Williams Scholars Program

The Butler-Williams Scholars Program, formerly known as the Summer Institute on Aging, provides unique opportunities for junior faculty and researchers new to the field to gain insight about aging research. The prestigious annual summer program builds upon a rich history of NIA’s work to highlight different perspectives in aging research through dynamic presentations and small group discussions. NIA encourages researchers who are interested in health disparities research related to aging, and those who are underrepresented in aging research, to apply.

Medicine, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (MSTEM): Advancing Diversity in Aging Research through Undergraduate Education (ADAR) program

The NIA MSTEM Advancing Diversity in Aging Research through Undergraduate Education (ADAR) program is designed to enhance diversity in undergraduate science education. Through ADAR, NIA has provided more than 300 college students with coursework, lab instruction, and mentoring in aging related research. Learn more about the ADAR program and read profiles of students who have participated.

NIA Diversity Supplement Program

NIA's Diversity and Re-entry Supplement programs support the development of eligible trainee-candidates who seek independent careers in aging and geriatrics research and meet our goal to enhance workforce diversity. Supplemental awards provide funds to support a mentor-directed opportunity for a trainee-candidate to develop the critical thinking skills, scientific technical expertise, and professional acumen essential for career advancement in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, or social sciences. Learn more about NIA’s training opportunities for special populations and supplement programs.

NIA IRP Diversity Training Initiatives

NIA is committed to training researchers for lifetime careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. Through its Intramural Research Program (IRP), NIA offers multiple training opportunities in both laboratory and clinical medicine, along with a wealth of valuable resources.

The Diversity in Aging Research Pipeline Program (DARPP) is designed to develop and expose underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged students to aging research. High school, college, graduate, medical, and postdoctoral students receive training from NIA IRP scientists in a highly mentored, structured environment. Students receive long-term support and follow-through during their experience with NIA and beyond.

NIA’s Summer Trainee in Aging Research (STAR) Program offers unique internship opportunities for underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged high school, college, graduate, and medical students. Based in Baltimore, internships last from eight to 10 weeks during the summer, and students get hands-on experience in scientific research settings and attend weekly seminars presented by NIA scientists. At the conclusion of the summer program, students present the data developed from their research projects at the NIA Summer Student Poster Day. Program participants receive a stipend to participate.

NIA Research on Health Disparities

Many complex and interconnected factors can affect older adults’ health and quality of life. To develop and implement effective interventions to address health disparities among various populations, NIA supports and conducts research to:

  • Identify and understand environmental, social, cultural, behavioral, and biological factors that create and sustain health disparities among older adults.
  • Develop strategies to promote active life expectancy and improve the health status of older adults in diverse populations.
  • Develop and implement strategies to increase inclusion of underrepresented populations in aging research.
  • Support research on women’s health, including studies of how sex and gender influence aging processes and outcomes.

Researchers from underrepresented groups or those interested in health disparities aging research can contact program officers for specific areas of interest, and learn how to find NIA funding opportunities, apply for grants and funding, and how the NIA peer review process works. Also see a full list of NIA-wide active funding opportunities, NIA-wide Alzheimer’s Disease and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD) funding opportunities, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding opportunities.

NIA Health Disparities Research Framework

The NIA Health Disparities Research Framework, overseen by OSP, outlines four key levels of analysis related to disparities research — environmental, sociocultural, behavioral, and biological — with priority focus areas in each category. Using the framework as a guide, NIA has awarded more than $250 million in research awards since 2015 to explore and address these determinants of health disparities related to aging.

NIA and the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease

The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease provides a framework for reaching our nation’s goal of effectively preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias by 2025. To this end, NIA led the development of implementation research milestones, which include research on health disparities in Alzheimer’s and related dementias and recruitment and participation of diverse participants clinical studies.

Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research

Through its Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR), since 1997, NIA has been mentoring promising scientists from underrepresented groups and playing a critical role in training the next generation of diverse researchers. Located at universities across the United States, the centers focus on health disparities and minority aging issues as a major part of their research education programs. In 2018, the RCMAR program was expanded to support additional centers focused on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias research

NIA IRP Heath Disparities Research

NIA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) scientists conduct a broad range of multidisciplinary, investigator-initiated research, including studies on health conditions and aging in diverse populations. Goals include investigating the biology of health disparities in the context of aging and disentangling the interaction between socioeconomic status and race in the development of age-associated health disparities. Other goals include mentoring the next generation of leaders in the epidemiology of aging, health disparities, and behavior.

Through the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span Study (HANDLS), NIA seeks to understand and address health disparities associated with race and socio-economic status in several Baltimore neighborhoods. Visit the Health Disparities Research Section to learn more.

Diversity Among Participants in NIA-funded Clinical Research

One of the biggest hurdles in advancing Alzheimer’s and related dementias and other aging research is recruitment and retention of clinical study and trial participants, particularly those from underrepresented populations. It is important for clinical studies and trials to have participants of different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities. When research involves a group of people who are similar, the findings may not be relevant to broader groups of individuals. When clinical trials include diverse participants, the study results may have a much wider applicability. NIA seeks to engage a more diverse range of older adults for the many clinical trials and studies it conducts and supports, including prevention and intervention trials on Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

NIA National Strategy for the Recruitment and Participation in Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Clinical Research

As part of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, NIA intensified efforts to outline practical, proactive approaches to help researchers recruit and retain diverse volunteers for a growing number of studies in Alzheimer’s and related dementias. NIA convened stakeholders to develop a National Recruitment Strategy featuring goals and approaches for increasing and diversifying research participants in Alzheimer’s and related dementias research. Developed with the Alzheimer’s Association and other stakeholders, the National Strategy focuses on four overarching themes: increasing awareness and engagement nationally; building and improving capacity and infrastructure at study sites; engaging local communities and support participants; and developing an applied science of recruitment.

CROMS

NIA's new Clinical Research Operations and Management System (CROMS) provides the capability to track, report, and manage NIA grantee clinical research data — including participant enrollment in supported studies — and other scientific portfolio activities in real time. The CROMS resource is enabling NIA and its funded investigators to intervene early to assist with enrollment challenges and support recruitment and retention of underrepresented populations in Alzheimer’s and related dementias research.

Outreach Pro

Outreach Pro is a new online research tool to help increase participation by traditionally underrepresented populations in clinical trials and studies on Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Unveiled at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) in July 2021, Outreach Pro enables those involved with leading clinical research to create and customize participant recruitment communications such as websites, handouts, videos, and social media posts. It is an integral part of NIA’s efforts to implement the National Strategy for Recruitment and Participation in Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Clinical Research.

Alzheimer’s & Dementia Outreach, Recruitment & Engagement Resources (ADORE)

NIA’s Alzheimer's & Dementia Outreach, Recruitment & Engagement (ADORE) repository is a searchable collection of resources on topics related to the engagement, recruitment, and retention of diverse participants in dementia clinical trials and studies. Researchers, community advocates, and study coordinators can search the ADORE database to find materials and strategies to help recruit participants.

Communications and Outreach

A core component of NIA’s mission is to disseminate aging-related information and research advances to diverse audiences including the public, policymakers, advocates, health care professionals, the scientific community, and the media. NIA’s website, social media, email alerts, print, video, and other communications channels provide evidence-based information on aging health topics and research, grants and funding, training and career development, and clinical trials.

NIA’s weekly blog for researchers provides updates on NIA funding policies and research priorities, including training opportunities and health disparities research priorities. Read blogs about diversity-related issues.

NIA also develops materials for special audiences and diverse populations, including non-English language materials and materials for those with limited literacy. NIA’s Spanish-language website offers evidence-based health information to Spanish speaking audiences.

NIH-Wide Diversity Initiatives

UNITE

NIA strongly supports UNITE, NIH’s initiative to end structural racism and racial inequities in biomedical and behavioral research. A collaborative, NIH-wide effort, UNITE is designed to establish an equitable and civil culture within the biomedical research enterprise and to reduce barriers to racial equity in the biomedical research workforce.

Read NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes’s UNITE announcement and the NIA Office of Special Populations Director Dr. Patricia Jones’s blog post about the initiative and related funding opportunities.

Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities

NIA participates in the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities initiative. The goal is to build long-lasting partnerships in communities hardest-hit by COVID-19, as well as to improve diversity and inclusion in our research response to this pandemic.

RADxSM initiative

The Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADxSM) initiative is a national call for scientists and organizations to speed innovation in the development, commercialization, and implementation of technologies for COVID-19 testing. NIA co-led the Rapid Diagnostic Accelerator for Underrepresented Populations (RADxUP) funding opportunity announcements, which are focused on COVID-19 vulnerable populations, with our partners at the NIH National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities and other NIH institutes, centers, and offices. NIA also co-led NIH efforts to strengthen data collection on COVID-19 to rapidly assess the needs and impact of COVID-19 across different population groups, particularly vulnerable populations. Learn more about NIA's support of the RADxSM initiative.

NIH Inclusion Across the Lifespan policy

NIA has played a leadership role in guiding NIH Inclusion Across the Lifespan policy and convening biannual workshops to support updating and implementing this policy in clinical research. The policy mandates that diverse participants of all ages be included in human research, particularly children, older adults, and underrepresented/underserved populations, unless there is a scientific or ethical reason for exclusion of any age category. These groups have specific and unique health issues that must be examined as we study new interventions that ultimately inform health care.

NIH Diversity Catalysts program

NIA also participates in the NIH Diversity Catalysts program, which is led by the NIH Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity. The goal is to implement and evaluate evidence-based diversity and inclusion strategies across the NIH.

NIH Women of Color Research Network

NIA supports the NIH Women of Color Research Network (WOCRN), an online community working to address issues faced by women and minorities in scientific careers. WOCRN offers links to current events, resources, and valuable connections.

Learn more about how NIH promotes a scientific workforce and the NIH offices working on scientific workforce diversity issues.