• January 19, 2017

    A person’s life expectancy is known to vary with chronological age, risk factors such as smoking, and health conditions such as heart disease. Add to that list a person’s “epigenetic age”—an estimate of biological age based on changes in DNA methylation at particular locations along the genome—according to a study that analyzed data from more than 13,000 individuals. The results of the study, supported and conducted in part by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of Aging.

    Led by Steve Horvath, Ph.D., Sc.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, a team of researchers from the United States, Europe, and Australia analyzed data from 13 population-based studies, including NIH’s Women’s Health Initiative, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart Study, and NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. They found that the difference between a person’s epigenetic age and chronological age predicted his or her risk of mortality, independent of known mortality risk factors. About 5 percent of adults aged substantially faster than others (i.e., epigenetic age was more than 10 years older than chronological age), leading to a nearly 50 percent increased risk of death.

    The results were adjusted for mortality-related risk factors, including smoking, obesity, and health conditions such as cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The associations also held across sex and racial groups, as the analysis encompassed data from 13,089 non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, and blacks.

    The study adds to the growing body of research looking to identify biomarkers that help describe different aspects of biological age. More research is needed to better understand the process of epigenetic aging and how it affects the contributors to mortality.

    Reference: Chen B.H., et al. DNA methylation-based measures of biological age: meta-analysis predicting time to death. Aging. 2016;8(9):1844-1865.

  • January 19, 2017

    Studies show that most short-lived species, such as yeast cells, benefit from calorie-restricted diets. Could the same be true for species that live longer? Researchers in two parallel studies—one conducted by the National Institute on Aging and the other by the University of Wisconsin—explored the life-prolonging and health effects of a calorie-restricted diet in rhesus monkeys but arrived at differing results. To resolve the discrepancy, researchers teamed up to compare their data and study designs.

    The University of Wisconsin (UW) study found that rhesus monkeys that were fed a calorie-restricted diet, which contained 30 percent fewer calories than a control group’s diet, survived to about 28 years for males and about 30 years for females—above average for such primates in captivity. In contrast, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) study found no significant effect of calorie restriction on survival.

    As they age, rhesus monkeys are vulnerable to many of the same diseases as humans, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Data from both studies showed fewer age-related health conditions in the calorie-restricted groups compared to controls.

    In the new study, published online Jan. 17 in Nature Communications, researchers compared data from the two previous studies and provided updated longitudinal comparisons. They presented several factors that likely contributed to the different outcomes, including diet composition, feeding regimens, age of onset, and genetic background.

    NIA fed their monkeys a naturally sourced diet comprised of varied protein sources, while the UW diet was purified with limited ingredients and contained a significantly higher amount of sucrose compared to the NIA diet. Additionally, the different timing of feeding and access to food may have also contributed to different results. The UW cohort was more homogenous in age and genetics than the NIA cohort, complicating some comparisons. Finally, the UW monkeys were adults of Indian origin, while NIA’s included both young and old monkeys of Indian and Chinese origin.

    Given the similarities between rhesus monkeys and humans, the beneficial effects of calorie restriction on health and life span could also be observed in humans, researchers concluded. However, more research is needed to study how a diet with fewer calories impacts humans as they age.

    Reference: Mattison, J.A., et al. Caloric restriction improves health and survival of rhesus monkeys. Nature Communications. 2017;8:14063.

  • January 13, 2017

    Mark your calendars April 6-7 for the upcoming Cognitive Aging Summit 2017 in Bethesda, Maryland.

    Researchers from across the country will gather to discuss promising areas of research into age-related brain and cognitive changes, with a special focus on neuroplasticity, compensation, resilience, and reserve. The two-day meeting will build on priorities and research directions identified at the last two Cognitive Aging Summits held in 2007 and 2010.

    Information and Registration

    Visit the Cognitive Aging Summit website to register and for more information about the Summit. Capacity is limited and registration will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. A video recording of the proceedings will be made available after the Summit.

    The Summit is convened by the National Institute on Aging at the NIH and made possible by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation through a generous grant to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

  • December 29, 2016

    Animal study tests novel way to influence Alzheimer's-related brain changes

    Gamma brain waves—electrical charges that help link and process information from all parts of the brain—are known to slow down in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease and other neurological or psychiatric disorders. NIH-funded researchers wanted to better understand the relationship between changes in gamma rhythms and Alzheimer's-related cellular changes.

    They discovered that exposing an Alzheimer's mouse model to flickering LED lights could stimulate gamma waves, which not only reduced levels of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain—a hallmark of the Alzheimer's—but boosted the clearance of harmful debris by microglia cells. This finding, published online Dec. 7 in Nature, provides new insight about a possible noninvasive approach to treating Alzheimer's disease.

    The findings from a research team led by Dr. Li-Huei Tsai at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, are preliminary but highlight the promise of optogenetics, a biological technique that uses light to control and monitor the activities of neurons that have been genetically modified to be extra-sensitive to light in animal models.

    Using a strip of LED lights that flickered at different speeds, the researchers found that a single, hour-long treatment of light flashing at 40 hertz increased gamma waves and reduced beta-amyloid levels by half in the visual cortex of mice in the very early stages of Alzheimer's. Within 24 hours, however, amyloid levels returned to normal in this brain region, which processes information from the eyes. When the scientists exposed mice with even higher levels of amyloid buildup to 1 hour of flickering light per day over 7 days, the number of amyloid plaques and levels of free-floating amyloid decreased. The treatment also ramped up the efficiency of microglia, reducing the number of amyloid plaques and free-floating amyloid.

    More research in animal models is needed to determine how long these effects last, but the proof-of-concept findings will inform the understanding of the various factors involved in Alzheimer's disease onset and progression.

    Reference: Iaccarino, H.F., et al. Gamma frequency entrainment attenuates amyloid load and modifies microglia. Nature. 2016 Dec 7;540(632):230-235.

  • December 9, 2016

    Why does our ability to remember fail as we age? Is age-related memory loss normal, or a sign of something worse, like Alzheimer’s disease? A new study in rats suggests that part of the answer may rest on how effectively different parts of the aging brain ‘talk’ to each other. This has been a difficult problem to study in people because the earliest brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease can occur a decade or more before clinical symptoms. To learn more, NIA researchers teamed up with brain imaging experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study how brain networks change during aging in rats, in the absence of neurodegenerative disease. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on October 10, 2016.

    Led by Dr. Jessica Ash of NIA, and Dr. Hanbing Lu of NIDA, the researchers used a rat model in which—like people—some older rats develop memory impairment and others don’t. Next, functional brain imaging examined the default mode network—an interconnected group of brain regions that is active when we rest and let our minds wander or daydream. There were two main findings. First, a dramatic loss of neural network connectivity between brain regions was found in older rats with memory impairment compared with young rats. Second, and perhaps more important, the brains of cognitively healthy older rats displayed a distinct neural network signature, different than the pattern in either young rats or older rats with memory impairment. These findings suggest that healthy cognitive aging is not simply a matter staying young, but may depend on successful network remodeling in the aged brain.

    The study also suggests that interventions aimed at engaging the brain’s ability for adaptive change may help promote optimally healthy cognitive aging. Further research will be needed to see how these insights might apply in the investigation of cognitive impairment in older people.

    Reference: Ash, J.A. et al. Functional connectivity with the retrosplenial cortex predicts cognitive aging in rats. PNAS. Published online Oct. 10, 2016.

  • December 5, 2016

    Dementia prevalence among Americans age 65 and older decreased significantly between 2000 and 2012, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine on November 21, 2016. Results from the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study (HRS) found that dementia prevalence decreased from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, representing a relative decrease of about 24 percent.

    Dr. Kenneth M. Langa of the University of Michigan and colleagues analyzed responses from approximately 10,500 HRS participants aged 65 or older in 2000 and 2012. They found that more years of education were associated with the decline in prevalence, but could not completely explain it. The average number of years of education increased from 11.8 to 12.7 between the cohorts. The decrease is similar to reports from other recent surveys. In this study, the decrease in dementia prevalence was noted for both men and women, despite an increase between 2000 and 2012 in cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

    The authors note that it will be important to continue to monitor the incidence and prevalence of dementia as the number of older adults, who are most at risk, continues to grow in coming decades. The findings from this study suggest rates of dementia can move in a positive direction, but more research will be needed to pinpoint the full set of social, behavioral, and medical factors that directly influence the development of and reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

    The HRS, launched in 1992, is a longitudinal study of people 50 and older funded by the NIA with contributions from the Social Security Administration. It currently follows more than 22,000 individuals, collecting data every two years, from pre-retirement to advanced age. The study consists of extensive interviews with participants, who are asked detailed questions about their health, economic status, social factors, cognitive ability, and life circumstances. The interviews also include a set of physical performance tests, body measurements, blood and saliva samples, and a psychosocial questionnaire.

    Reference: A Comparison of the Prevalence of Dementia in the United States in 2000 and 2012 by Kenneth M. Langa, et al. JAMA Internal Medicine. November 21, 2016.

  • November 28, 2016

    The Office of Communications and Public Liaison (OCPL) at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) seeks to hire a public affairs specialist (13) to serve as a press officer and assist the institute in developing  content and materials to promote research advances.

    Located on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, NIA OCPL directs a comprehensive communications program to disseminate research findings, support research and funding activities of the Institute, and provide information on health and aging and Alzheimer’s and related dementias to the public, health providers, researchers, advocates, media and others.

    The OCPL Outreach and Education Branch is responsible for developing an effective plan to enhance communication of the NIA’s research portfolio and scientific information to various target audiences, including the media, outside organizations interested in NIA’s mission areas, health care providers, and the public. The branch works closely with scientific staff, researchers, external organizations and members of the media to promote understanding of NIA programs and research.

    The successful candidate for this position must have strong writing, editorial, interpersonal, outreach and project management skills. Prior experience working with the media is essential. The Public Affairs Specialist candidate must be able to translate complex scientific information and concepts into materials, such as press releases, news announcements, and online content, including research reports on Alzheimer’s disease, designed for lay audiences. Familiarity with aging-related issues, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and cognitive health is helpful.

  • November 25, 2016

    The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at the National Institutes of Health has released a new strategic plan for 2017 through 2021. The plan focuses on scientific priorities, which reflect key research challenges that the OBSSR is uniquely positioned to address. Developed with considerable input from internal and external NIH stakeholders, the plan ensures OBSSR continues to fulfill its mission.  Please visit the website for more details on the new strategic plan.

  • November 17, 2016

    The Office of Communications and Public Liaison (OCPL) at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) seeks to hire two Writer/Editors (11-12-13) to develop and produce content for a variety of audiences in print, digital, and video formats.

    Located on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, NIA OCPL directs a comprehensive communications program to disseminate research findings, support research and funding activities of the Institute, and provide information on health and aging and Alzheimer’s and related dementias to the public, health providers, researchers, advocates, media and others.

    The OCPL Content Branch applies the principles of writing/editing, health education, social marketing, digital communications, communications research, content management, and media relations to plan, develop, disseminate, and evaluate public information and education programs and materials, video, and social media. The branch works closely with scientists to ensure the development of scrupulously researched and approved content in print and online for lay and/or scientific audiences. Content is produced and disseminated in collaboration with the OCPL Outreach Branch and with contract staff at our two information clearinghouses, the NIA Information Center and Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center.

    The successful candidate for this position must have strong writing, editorial, project management, outreach, and interpersonal communication skills. The Writer/Editor candidate will also demonstrate skills in effective communications, social marketing, and qualitative research to conceptualize, research, write, edit, design, disseminate, promote, and evaluate a wide variety of health information and scientific content for the public, particularly older adults, as well as professionals. The candidate will be able to translate complex research into language and graphics accessible to lay audiences, as well as generate content for scientific and professional audiences.

    Familiarity with writing and editing health information is helpful, as is experience with planning, writing, and producing video, web, and/or social media content.

  • November 15, 2016

    The NIA Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology (DGCG) is searching for a Health Program Specialist (11-12-13) with a Masters or PhD level degree and experience in clinical and translational research, to provide scientific and logistical support to DGCG scientific staff for the following activities:

    • Development and organization of scientific workshops
    • Administration, coordination and analysis of program activities; planning, organization, coordination, and management of segments of complex activities
    • Planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs and initiatives
    • Conducting literature searches, portfolio analyses, and program analyses
    • Assisting in drafting ad hoc and periodic reports and presentations, and summarizing research findings.
    • Working with program staff to develop Funding Opportunity Announcements, new research initiatives, and exploratory meetings of scientific experts
    • Working with program staff to prepare background materials for proposed program development of new and ongoing research initiatives retreat presentations.
    • Working with program staff to develop background materials and agendas for program-sponsored exploratory and advisory scientific meetings.
    • Providing assistance to principal investigators who have responded to the RFAs and PAs.
    • Analyzing responses to RFAs and Program Announcements by numbers of applications and scientific areas. This includes working with the program leadership to identify areas that need to be addressed in program planning.
    • Analyzing Division portfolio content/portfolio publication productivity
    • Attending and reporting on peer review meetings
    • Attending and reporting on annual scientific meetings and NIH-sponsored workshops that are relevant to DGCG program areas
    • Establishing, monitoring and updating systems for tracking program and research progress
    • Providing technical assistance and guidance concerning Division initiatives and priorities to applicants and grantees
    • Responding to requests from Congress, NIH and NIA directors, NIA divisions, and the public
    • Maintaining and updating content on the Division website

    For additional information about this position, contact Jessica Moreno via email or at 301-402-7719.