• November 17, 2011

    Certain behaviors and exposure to environmental elements can have a lasting impact on gene expression by modifying chromatin at both the DNA and protein levels. These modifications comprise the field of epigenetics. Because older people have literally a lifetime of exposure to the environment, it is likely that epigenetics might play a crucial role in aging. Yet, studies of the epigenetics of aging are just in their infancy.

    Researchers have found that reducing a certain epigenetic modification of proteins associated with DNA in C. elegans (a type of round worm) leads to a longer lifespan. In the November 17, 2011, issue of Nature, A. Brunet’s group at Stanford University reports that lifespan extension (resulting from the reduction of this particular epigenetic modification) is inheritable for three generations. Breeding the worms that had the extended lifespan with wild-type worms resulted in offspring that had a wild-type genome; but, surprisingly, the offspring also lived longer than normal, wild-type worms.  Offspring of the second generation of worms also had a longer lifespan, as did the generation after that. The inheritance of longer life did eventually subside after four generations.

    It is too early to apply this finding to human aging, but the work reveals the possibility that good (or bad) habits can have a lasting effect not only on health and lifespan, but possibly on the health and lifespan of succeeding generations.  More research is needed to determine the molecular mechanisms, and to establish whether the findings can be applied to more complex organisms.


    Greer EL, Maures TJ, Ucar D, Hauswirth AG, Mancini E, Lim JP, Benayoun BA, Shi Y, Brunet A. Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature. 2011 Nov 17;479(7373):302-3.


  • December 6, 2011

    The RAND Survey Meta Data Repository provides researchers with information on survey content from the international collection of longitudinal aging studies harmonized to the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. It includes a digital library of survey questions, a search engine for finding comparable questions across the surveys, and a set of identically defined variables for cross-country analysis for over ten studies (and growing). For more information, please visit the Mega Meta homepage.

  • December 6, 2011

    Public data from the American Time Use Survey new well-being module is available online at NIA is interested in applications using this dataset. Investigators interested in using this data may wish to use the Secondary Analyses of Social and Behavioral Datasets in Aging (R03).

    NIA continues to encourage investigator-initiated applications relevant to the themes outlined in the (expired) RFA-AG-11-003 Subjective Well-being: Advances in Measurement and Applications to Aging. Please use the R01 or R03 Parent Program Announcements for your proposals.

  • November 2, 2011

    Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN have found a causal relationship between senescent cells and certain age-related diseases in a mouse model, according to a report in Nature. While research on cell cultures has long suggested that senescent cells have a role in aging, the nature of this connection in live animals was less clear. The new finding suggests that cell senescence may be a fundamental mechanism that drives aging. The study was supported in part by the NIA.

    In cell senescence, the cell turns off its capacity to produce new cells. This typically happens after a cell has divided so many times that it is in jeopardy of becoming abnormal and potentially dangerous. Thus, cell senescence is considered an anti-cancer mechanism. But the senescent cell, although different from its earlier self, is still alive and it works on many levels, by both sending and receiving signals.

    In the Mayo Clinic study, researchers designed a process to eliminate all senescent cells in a strain of mice. Removing senescent cells delayed the onset of disease-related changes in fat tissue, skeletal muscle, and eye tissue. In addition, removing senescent cells later in the life of the mice was found to slow the progression of already established age-related disorders. 

    Reference: Baker DJ, et al. Clearance of p16Ink4a-positive senescent cells delays aging-associated disorders. Nature. 2011 Nov 2;479(7372):232-6.

  • December 1, 2011

    T. Franklin Williams, M.D., the second director of the National Institute on Aging, died on November 25, 2011, at his home in Rochester, New York. He would have been 90 years old on November 26. Dr. Williams is credited with bringing to aging research a perspective that sought to distinguish the effects of aging from those of preventable or treatable health conditions that affect older people.

    Dr. Williams was named NIA Director in July 1983, a position he held until 1991. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Williams was a professor of preventive, family, and rehabilitative medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He served as the hospital’s medical director from 1968 until 1983, and spearheaded the development of the university’s geriatrics program. Dr. Williams returned to Rochester following his retirement from NIA, where he continued as a scholar, teacher and attending physician. In 1995, he was appointed Distinguished Physician at the Canandaigua, N.Y., Veterans Administration Medical Center. From 1992 through 2002, he also served as scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research.

    “Frank Williams was an outstanding geriatrician, researcher, and administrator who was inspired by the possibilities of advanced age,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “He wanted to know how it was possible to achieve and maintain high functioning, good health, and a sharp mind well into late life. He achieved this ideal for himself and worked hard to achieve it for many others. He will be greatly missed.”

    During Dr. Williams’ tenure at NIA, the institute established a number of groundbreaking programs, including the Alzheimer's Disease Centers, where researchers focus on basic through clinical studies; the Federal Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, an organization of more than 35 federal agencies that collect and analyze data on older people; and the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, which conducts outreach and provides information about Alzheimer's disease to health professionals, patients and their families, and the general public. Under Dr. Williams’ leadership, the institute began the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study, which examines how older adults’ health interacts with social, economic, and psychological factors. He also established the Geriatric Research and Training Centers, later renamed the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers, charged with conducting research on diseases and conditions that threaten independent living.

    “Frank’s strong vision and leadership for NIA came from his deep appreciation of aging as an essential and valued part of life,” said Evan Hadley, M.D., director of NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology. “He often cautioned against references to the “elderly” as a group inherently different from those of us who haven’t yet reached old age. In particular, he rejected common assumptions that older persons are inherently sicker or less capable.”

    Dr. Williams is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, the former Catharine Carter Catlett, a medical social worker who joined Dr. Williams on his trips around the world, gathering information on models of approaches to aging and working to implement new approaches in this country. He is also survived by two children, Mary Wright Williams Montague and Thomas Nelson Williams, four grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren.

  • October 20, 2011

    BSR has commissioned a number of National Academies reports on topics such as global aging trends; data confidentiality and accessibility; health care cost growth and output measurement; and the psychology of aging. Please see BSR's page for a list of NAS reports available online or if you prefer, a CD which contains PDFs of these reports is also available. For a copy of the CD, please contact

  • November 8, 2010

    Dr. Gene D. Cohen, former NIA deputy director and acting NIA director from 1988 to 1993, died November 7 at his home in Kensington, MD, after a long battle with cancer.

    “We will remember Gene Cohen as a talented and dedicated scientist as well as a kind and compassionate friend and mentor to many at NIH and in the aging community,” said NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes.

    Dr. Cohen was a pioneer in the field of geriatric psychiatry who in later years turned his focus from the problems of aging to the creative potential of older people. His U.S. Public Health Service career began as a commissioned officer at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he was the first chief of the Center on Aging.

    Dr. Cohen maintained his commitment to biological, psychological, and social issues in geriatric medicine when he moved to the NIA. Over the years, he was involved in many groundbreaking Alzheimer’s disease initiatives, including a task force that resulted in a 1984 report that helped increase federal support for Alzheimer’s research. In 1994, Dr. Cohen became the first director of the Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

    Dr. Cohen’s interest in creativity in older adults brought a new view to aging, which he interpreted with the development of interactive and intergenerational games. His most recent game, Making Memories Together, helps families and caregivers recognize the untapped imaginative potential of Alzheimer’s patients.

    “Gene Cohen was a renaissance man, merging mental health and aging research outcomes with the nourishment of creativity in older people,” said Dr. Marie Bernard, NIA deputy director. “He was a perpetual presence at meetings of the Gerontological Society of America, distinguished by his bow tie, curly hair, and welcoming smile. He will be missed in the aging research community.”

  • December 30, 2008

    Age (Dordr). 2008 Dec;30(4):187-99. Epub 2008 Apr 18.,Nadon, N.L., Strong, R., Miller, R.A., Nelson, J., Sharp, Z. D., Paralbe, J.M.,Harrison, D.E., The field of biogerontology has made great strides towards understanding the biological processes underlying aging, and the time is ripe to look towards applying this knowledge to the pursuit of aging interventions. Identification of safe, inexpensive, and non-invasive interventions that slow the aging process and promote healthy aging could have a significant impact on quality of life and health care expenditures for the aged. While there is a plethora of supplements and interventions on the market that purport to slow aging, the evidence to validate such claims is generally lacking. Here we describe the development of an aging interventions testing program funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to test candidate interventions in a model system. The development of this program highlights the challenges of long-term intervention studies and provides approaches to cope with the stringent requirements of a multi-site testing program.  

  • September 12, 2011

    Results of a pilot clinical trial show a nasal-spray form of insulin delayed memory loss and preserved cognition in people with cognitive deficits that range from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle led the trial, which was supported in large part by the NIA.

    Previous research suggests that insulin abnormalities contribute to Alzheimer’s pathophysiology. Researchers suspected that restoring normal insulin function in the brain may provide cognitive benefit and slow disease progression. A nasal spray delivered insulin quickly and directly to the brain and does not result in harmful side effects, such as increased peripheral insulin levels.

    The trial included 104 adults with either amnestic MCI or mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease dementia. They received 20 IU (international units) of insulin, 40 IU of insulin, or a saline placebo, all administered through a nasal drug delivery device for 4 months. Memory, cognition, and functional ability were measured before and after treatment. A subset of participants also received lumbar punctures to test cerebrospinal fluid and brain scans before and after treatment.

    Treatment with 20 IU of intranasal insulin improved memory and both doses of insulin preserved general cognition and functional ability. These results point out the need for larger trials of insulin nasal-spray therapy to further test its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

    Reference: Craft S, et al. Intranasal insulin therapy for Alzheimer disease and amnestic mild cognitive impairment: a pilot clinical trial. Archives of Neurology. 2012 Jan;69(1):29-38. Epub 2011 Sep 12.

  • February 9, 2007

    Dr. Leon Thal, one of the world’s leading researchers on Alzheimer’s disease and the head of the National Insitute on Aging’s (NIA) clinical trials consortium, the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), died Saturday, February 3, in a fatal airplane accident near San Diego, his home. Dr. Thal was chairman of the neurosciences department at the University of California San Diego and also director of the NIA-supported Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center there. He recently completed a tour as a member of NIA's National Advisory Council on Aging.

    "The loss of Dr. Thal is a devastating blow to the Alzheimer’s research community," said NIA Director Richard Hodes. "Beyond his exceptional talents as a scientist, he was a wonderful human being of extraordinary wisdom and energy and a deeply caring clinician. His tragic and sudden loss is very difficult for us all to comprehend, and we will miss him in many ways."

    Thal’s entire career was devoted to the study of aging and dementia. Over the past three decades, he achieved a remarkable body of research productivity that includes more than 300 peer-reviewed papers. One of the world’s leading investigators engaged in development of new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, his efforts contributed significantly to the world’s understanding of the cause, prevention and treatment of AD and related disorders. He directed more than $100 million in federally funded research grants, and was a collaborator on many others.

    As director of the ADCS since its inception in 1991, Thal led a consortium of more than 70 research centers around the United States and Canada. Established to test drugs for their effectiveness in slowing down the progression or treating the symptoms of AD, as well as to investigate new methods for conducting dementia research, the ADCS was recently awarded $52 million by NIA to continue its work. More than 4,600 people have participated in these studies.

    In recognition of his career accomplishments and leadership in the field of Alzheimer’s research, he was awarded The Potamkin Prize, one of the nation’s highest honors in dementia research, in 2004. In presenting the award, the American Academy of Neurology recognized Thal’s “outstanding achievements in research of Alzheimer’s and related neurodegenerative diseases.”