In February 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As part of the legislation, more than $10 billion was allocated to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for support of biomedical research in fiscal years (FY) 2009 and 2010.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) received approximately $275 million of the NIH funds. The NIA has awarded 407 grants totaling $179.5 million for FY09. The NIA committed most of the remaining funds to support the second year of these awards, provided that they show appropriate progress. Awards included support of student scientists working in the labs of NIA grantees during the summer, administrative supplements for existing Research Project Grants, and major awards for new projects under the Challenge Grant and Grand Opportunity (GO) Grant mechanisms.
“The Recovery Act funds presented a unique opportunity to stimulate research in all aspects of aging,” said NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes. “We used some funds to support recently peer-reviewed and highly meritorious investigator-initiated projects that could be advanced with a 2-year grant. These projects were highly competitive, reflecting a strong and vigorous community focused on aging research. We could not have supported them at this time without this infusion of funding.”
New grant mechanisms were developed specifically for Recovery Act projects. In soliciting Challenge Grant proposals, the NIH sought research ideas in 15 categories of wide-ranging health and science concerns. The NIA funded 40 Challenge Grants totaling more than $17.7 million for FY09. The maximum award was $500,000 per year for 2 years; almost all NIA Challenge Grants provided 2 years of support.
The GO Grants supported high-impact ideas that lend themselves to short-term, nonrenewable funding and may lay the foundation for new fields of investigation. The NIA funded 23 GO Grants totaling more than $51.7 million for FY09 and expects to provide a similar amount for their second year of funding in FY10.
“The Recovery Act provided a wonderful opportunity to advance aging research,” said Dr. Robin Barr, director of NIA’s Division of Extramural Activities. “But it also presented some unique challenges. Program staff collectively spent hundreds of hours in phone and e-mail discussions with current and potential grantees, discussing how budgets could be reworked to accommodate the 2-year funding, whether particular research projects could be accomplished in 2 years, and how best to focus research concepts.”
Staff reviewed about 1,000 administrative supplement requests to existing grants. In addition, staff from each of the four NIA divisions worked with other NIH Institutes to develop and define the categories for the Challenge Grants.
“Peer review was a challenging process as well,” Dr. Barr added. “Staff in our Scientific Review Branch recruited more than 500 reviewers and arranged about 80 review meetings in which more than 200 grant applications were considered.”
Awards were made in all NIA program areas. Basic research in aging focused on such topics as identification of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, developing biomarker tools and resources, and studies of rapamycin and calorie restriction. Clinically focused research on nutrition, obesity, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease is also being supported.
In Alzheimer’s disease research, investigations are taking place in the areas of biomarkers, genetic and other risk factors, neuroimaging, and possible prevention and treatment strategies.
Studies of health service utilization, improving quality of care for older patients, preventing health disparities, supporting family caregivers, and understanding how economic concerns affect older adults are also funded, as are studies to understand and prevent loss of cognitive function, prevent physical disability in older people, and investigate psychosocial aspects of maintaining independence.
For details about the NIA’s Recovery Act research projects:
Information about grants is available at http://report.nih.gov/recovery/arragrants.cfm.  Grants can be searched by state; available information includes grantee institution, project title, principal investigator, NIH Institute or Center, and grant amount.