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History

The National Institute on Aging was established in 1974, but our origins reach back much farther. This timeline contains information about key dates in our history.

1887
A federal research laboratory, known as the Laboratory of Hygiene, is established at the Marine Hospital, Staten Island, N.Y., in August, for research on cholera and other infectious diseases. It will be renamed the Hygienic Laboratory in 1891.

1930
Congress changes the name of the Hygienic Laboratory to the National Institute of Health.

1937
The first Institute (Cancer) is established.

1940
A Unit on Aging is established in the NIH Division of Chemotherapy. Head: Edward J. Stieglitz

1941
The Unit on Aging (evidently, later the Gerontology Branch) moves to Baltimore City Hospital under the direction of Nathan Shock.

1941
Surgeon General Thomas Parran forms the National Advisory Committee on Gerontology.

1948
The Gerontology Branch is moved to the National Heart Institute. (Note: There had been an effort to establish an Institute of Aging with the Heart Institute as a subsidiary! This failed when a physician to the Senate opined “We don’t need research on Aging. All we need to do is go into the library and read what has been published.”)

1950
President Truman convenes the First National Conference on Aging.

1951
In his Trends in Gerontology, Dr. Shock outlines his recommendations for an Institute of Gerontology.

1956
Federal Council on Aging is convened.

1956
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has a Special Staff on Aging; Center for Aging Research exists within the National Institute of Mental Health.

1958
Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging established.

1959
A Section on Aging established within NIMH (James E. Birren, head).

Aging research conducted through NIH intramural programs (Gerontology Branch of the National Heart Institute and NIMH Section on Aging).

Almost 600 research and training grants on aging are under way through the Center for Aging Research, “the focal point for information on the NIH activities in gerontology.”

1961
First White House Conference on Aging recommends creation of an Aging Institute. Their report reads, in part, “a National Institute of Gerontology should be set up within the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on aging; Federal financial support should be increased for biomedical research in governmental agencies, universities, hospitals, research centers and for building necessary facilities; human population laboratories should be established to study problems associated with aging.”

1962
The Gerontology Research Center Nathan Shock Laboratory facility is donated to NIH by the City of Baltimore (deed dated 12/6/62; recorded 2/1/63).[i]

1963
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is established to focus on health issues across the life course, including in old age. President John F. Kennedy remarks, “For the first time, we will have an Institute to promote studies directed at the entire life process rather than toward specific diseases or illnesses.”

1965
The Older Americans Act establishes the Administration on Aging as “the Federal focal point for activities in aging.”

1967
The Gerontology Research Center in Baltimore, long a part of the National Heart Institute, is transferred to NICHD.

1968
The Division of General Medical Sciences has responsibility for research grant projects in aging. Aging-related research is conducted and supported throughout NIH – primarily NICHD, but also NCIA, NIAID, the National Heart Institute, and the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases.

Construction of the Gerontology Research Center (GRC) in Baltimore is completed.

December 2, 1971
The White House Conference on Aging once again recommends creation of a separate National Institute on Aging.

1973
President Richard Nixon vetoes a bill for the creation of a National Institute on Aging.

May 31, 1974
Public Law 93-296 authorizes the establishment of a National Institute on Aging and requires that the institute develop a national comprehensive plan to coordinate the HEW (Health, Education, Welfare) agencies involved in aging research.

October 7, 1974
The National Institute on Aging is established.

April 23, 1975
First meeting of the National Advisory Council on Aging.

July 1, 1975
The Adult Development and Aging Branch and Gerontology Research Center are separated from their parent institute (NICHD) to become the core of the National Institute on Aging.

May 1, 1976
Dr. Robert N. Butler appointed first NIA director.

December 8, 1976
The research plan required by P.L. 93-296 goes to Congress.

September 20, 1982
NIA Laboratory of Neurosciences Clinical Program admits the first inpatient to a new unit at the NIH Clinical Center.

1984
The first Alzheimer's Disease Centers are established.

November 14, 1986
P.L. 99-660, section 951-952, authorizes the NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center as a part of a broad program to conduct research and distribute information about Alzheimer’s disease to health professionals, patients and their families, and the general public.

1987
The first annual Florence S. Mahoney Lecture on Aging is held. This series was created in honor of Mrs. Florence Stephenson Mahoney (1899-2002), a woman who tirelessly campaigned for increased Federal spending for medical research and steadfastly championed for the creation of the NIA.

NIA holds its first Summer Institute, a one-week event to provide junior investigators, particularly those from underrepresented groups, an opportunity to learn about the substance and methodology of aging research from recognized experts in the field.

November 4, 1988
P.L. 100-607 establishes the Geriatric Research and Training Centers (GRTC).

1990
The GRTCs are expanded and renamed the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers and charged with conducting research in diseases that threaten independent living.

1992
The Health and Retirement Study, the leading source of combined data on health and financial circumstances of Americans over age 50 and a valuable resource to follow and predict trends and help inform policies for an aging America, is established.

1993
Six Edward Roybal Centers for Research on Applied Gerontology are authorized to convert research findings into programs that improve the lives of older people and their families.

NIA funds six Exploratory Centers for Minority Aging and Health Promotion in collaboration with the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health.

1994
Nine demography of aging centers are funded to provide research on health, economics, and aging to make more effective use of data from several national surveys of health, retirement, and long-term care.

1995
Three Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in Basic Biology of Aging are established to further the study of the basic processes of aging.

1996
NIA introduces its Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging, providing encouragement and evidence-based guidance for older adults to engage in exercise.

1997
The Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) program is established to investigate the variability of health differences experienced across racial and ethnic groups, as well as the mentoring of new scholars in health disparities research.

1999
As part of NIA's 25th anniversary celebration, a strategic plan is formulated and made available for public comment. The plan addressees scientific topics holding the greatest promise for advancing knowledge in areas such as the basic biology of aging, geriatrics, and social and behavioral functioning.

2001
In a unique private-public partnership, NIA joins the Osteoarthritis Initiative to bring together resources and commitment to the search for biological markers of osteoarthritis.

NIA and the Icelandic Heart Association announce collaboration on a vast study on the interactions of age, genes, and the environment. The collaboration extends 34 years of data on the health of 23,000 Icelandic residents into the new millennium.

2002
NIA begins to offer a selection of its award-winning health communications materials in Spanish.

The SardiNIA Project, a study to determine the genetic bases for a number of age-related traits and conditions, begins. This five-year project is a collaboration between the NIA Intramural Research Program and the Italian National Research Council.

2003
NIA and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) launch NIHSeniorhealth.gov, a web site designed to encourage older people to use the Internet.

The NIA, joined by the Alzheimer's Association, expands the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Initiative to create a large bank of genetic materials and cell lines for study to speed up the discovery of risk-factor genes for late-onset Alzheimer's disease.

NIA and the American Federation for Aging Research—in collaboration with the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Staff Foundation—establish the Paul B. Beeson Career Development Awards in Aging Research program, a public-private partnership to support clinically trained junior faculty to pursue careers in aging research.

The NIA IRP’s Advanced Studies in Translational Research on Aging (ASTRA) unit, a state-of-the-art facility located at Baltimore's Harbor Hospital, opens in January and becomes the new home of the BLSA.

2004
NIA launches the Longevity Consortium, a network of investigators from several large-scale human cohort studies working in collaboration with individual basic biological aging researchers to facilitate the discovery, confirmation, and understanding of genetic determinants of healthy human longevity.

NIA begins the Long Life Family Study, an international multicenter research project to examine families with high numbers of long-lived individuals to better understand the genetic and environmental contributions to exceptional long life in families.

NIA, in conjunction with other Federal agencies and private companies and organizations through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, leads the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

NIA launches Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS), a multidisciplinary community based, longitudinal, epidemiologic study examining the influences and interaction of race and socioeconomic status on the development of age-associated health disparities among socioeconomically diverse African Americans and whites in Baltimore.

2005
NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Preclinical Drug Development program is established.

2006
NIA leads the NIH conference “AD: Setting the Research Agenda a Century after Auguste D,” to assess the state of current Alzheimer's disease research and the most promising routes to progress.

2007
“Living Long & Well in the 21st Century: Strategic Directions for Research on Aging,” which outlines broad goals and objectives for aging research, is published.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sponsors the Summit on Global Aging in collaboration with NIA to call attention to challenges and opportunities worldwide from population aging.

2008
A Biology of Aging Summit is convened to review NIA’s research portfolio, identify areas of opportunity, and facilitate the formulation of cohesive and comprehensive plans for the future.

NIA celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.

NIA’s five extramural programs (Aging Biology, Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology, Neuroscience, Behavioral and Social Research, and Extramural Activities) are reorganized as divisions.

2009
An updated version of NIA’s award-winning exercise guide for older Americans is published.

2011
NIA launches the Go4Life campaign, to promote exercise and physical activity nationwide for people 50 and older, with public and private partners from a variety of aging, fitness, and provider organizations.

NIA and the Alzheimer’s Association lead an effort to update diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer's disease to reflect the full spectrum of the disease, marking the first time in 27 years clinical and research criteria are changed.

The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) is signed into law requiring a coordinated national effort to find ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and to improve care and services. NIH, represented by NIA, participates in the federal Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care, and Services.

The Trans-NIH GeroScience Interest Group is formed, with leadership from the NIA. The group promotes discussion, sharing of ideas and coordination of activities within the NIH research community working on mechanisms underlying age-related changes, including those which could lead to increased disease susceptibility.

2012
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the NAPA-required National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. NIA plays a critical role in developing the first goal of the plan – To Effectively Treat or Prevent Alzheimer’s by 2025.

The NIA Intramural Research Program (IRP) is reorganized to recognize new paradigms in the field of aging research. The program now integrates labs and resources bringing together people who share a similar research interest, but are coming at it from different vantage points.

NIA organizes the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit 2012: Path to Treatment and Prevention. Some 500 researchers and advocates attend the meeting, which results in recommendations aimed at advancing Alzheimer’s disease research.

The International Alzheimer’s Disease Research Portfolio is launched. Built in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association, the database captures the full spectrum of research investment and resources and enables public and private funders of Alzheimer’s research to share and review funding data.

NIA leads development of the NIH Toolbox for Neurological and Behavioral Function. Unveiled in 2012, the Toolbox offers researchers a free set of brief tests to assess cognitive, sensory, motor and emotional function in people from toddlers to older adults.

2013
NIA grantees publish landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that costs for caring for dementia patients exceed those for heart disease, cancer, and many other conditions.

Inside NIA: A Blog for Researchers” debuts in May. This popular weekly blog provides news about NIA policies, funding opportunities, and other topics specifically for the research community.

In October, NIA hosts “Advances in Geroscience: Impact on Healthspan and Chronic Disease,” a scientific summit bringing together 50 renowned investigators to examine how the basic biology of aging drives chronic disease, organized by the trans-NIH GeroScience Interest Group.

2014
Follow-up results of the ACTIVE study reveal that older people retain the benefits of some types of cognitive training 10 years after the intervention.

The NIH, 10 biopharmaceutical companies and several nonprofit organizations launched an unprecedented partnership to transform the current model for identifying and validating the most promising biological targets of disease for new diagnostics and drug development, the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), including a project focused on Alzheimer’s disease.

Initial results of the NIA-funded LIFE study show that a carefully structured, moderate physical activity program can reduce risk of losing the ability to walk without assistance, perhaps the single most important factor in whether vulnerable older people can maintain their independence.

The NIH and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) joined for the first time to support a clinical trial to test individually tailored interventions to prevent fall-related injuries in older people. The award, made by the NIA and funded by PCORI as part of the Falls Injuries Prevention Partnership of the two organizations, totaled some $30 million over the five-year project.

NIA celebrates its 40th anniversary with a scientific symposium held at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.

2015
On February 9–10, NIA convenes the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit 2015: Path to Treatment and Prevention to develop recommendations that provide a framework for a new Alzheimer’s disease research agenda. 

In July, on behalf of NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, NIA presents the first-ever NIH Professional Judgment Budget for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias—commonly referred to as a Bypass Budget—which lays out NIH’s plan to speed discovery into these disorders.

The White House Conference on Aging showcases NIA’s Go4Life exercise and physical activity campaign. In September, NIA celebrates the first-ever Go4Life Month, encouraging partners, organizations, and individuals across the country to become more physically active, and sponsors A Capitol Walk with Go4Life and the Surgeon General on September 18. 

2016

The Trans-NIH GeroScience Interest Group hosts the second geroscience summit, “Disease Drivers of Aging: 2016 Advances in Geroscience Summit” on April 13–14 at the New York Academy of Sciences.

Six papers by researchers working at or funded by the NIA presenting the opportunities and challenges of moving forward the multidisciplinary field of geroscience, are published in a special issue of the Journals of Gerontology: Series A – Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

In September, ADNI3 is announced, an expansion of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), the landmark study investigating brain and fluid biomarkers of the disease. 

NIA launches an online version of the Health Disparities Research Framework to showcase priorities and investments in this research area and serve as a resource for scientists interested in investigating health disparities related to aging.

2017

Almost 300 researchers and private foundation representatives attend the NIA-hosted Cognitive Aging Summit III, focusing on themes of cognitive and brain resilience and reserve.

In June, a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine releases “Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Way Forward,” a report commissioned by the NIA. 

Sources

  • Freeman JT. Some Notes on the History of the National Institute on Aging. Gerontologist 20: 610-614, 1980.
  • Morley JE. A Brief History of Geriatrics. Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences 59: 1132-1152, 2004.
  • NIH Almanac