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An encouraging start to the new year

Dr. Richard Hodes
Richard HODES,
Director,
Office of the Director (OD)
.

As we begin the new calendar year, I am happy to discuss exciting news about the NIH and NIA budgets for fiscal year 2016. As many of you probably know by now, on December 18, President Obama signed into law the FY2016 Omnibus Bill, which gave NIH an overall increase of $2 billion, or about 6.6 percent, above the FY2015 appropriation level. Importantly for NIA, this included an increase of approximately 33 percent over our FY2015 budget, which in large measure reflects some $350 million specifically directed to research into Alzheimer’s disease.

I am very grateful for the opportunities this funding provides across our programs and I look forward to working with scientists, policymakers, stakeholders, providers, and affected individuals and their families as we intensify research efforts in key areas.

The overall increase to the FY2016 NIA budget—exclusive of the Alzheimer’s-specific support—is 4.2 percent, the largest increase to the NIA budget since 2003. This will provide an opportunity for increased support of the broad range of NIA-supported aging research. The increase is in line with that of other NIH Institutes and Centers which average 3.9 percent overall.

Ramping up Alzheimer’s research

In Alzheimer’s, we are already poised to integrate the extraordinary new funds into our research portfolio. In September and October, following the 2015 international research summit hosted by NIH, NIA issued 10 Program Announcements with Review (PARs), that request proposals across a broad spectrum of Alzheimer’s disease research. The PARs cover studies of epidemiology, basic molecular and cellular mechanisms, diagnosis and prediction, health disparities, caregiving, clinical trials, and brain aging, among others.

We hope that, as expeditiously as possible, scientists working in all fields of aging research will apply their talents and resources to this unprecedented opportunity by submitting applications, not just in response to these announcements, but to any opportunities you see to move the needle in Alzheimer’s.

It will be important—particularly for investigator-initiated applications—to identify your research as relevant to Alzheimer’s disease, in order to be considered for the Alzheimer’s-directed additional funding. For example, if you are working on genetic or biochemical mechanisms that contribute to tissue or organ aging, such as DNA damage, loss of proteostasis, or cellular senescence, you might consider in your grant application how aging mechanisms affect the development or progression of Alzheimer’s pathology in appropriate cell and animal models. Likewise, if you are submitting an application relating to transitions of care in nursing home patients and a substantial percentage of the patients have Alzheimer’s, it would important to describe how the project relates to Alzheimer’s.

A time of tremendous scientific opportunity

I applaud the bipartisan support for NIH and biomedical research, and want particularly to thank the leadership of the House and Senate who made this increase possible. We also are deeply appreciative of the efforts of the aging research community and the many stakeholder organizations that have worked with unrelenting dedication to bring the issue of our country’s—and indeed the world’s—aging population and the particular challenges and opportunities of Alzheimer’s disease research to the attention of our nation’s leaders. As NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins noted, this investment in NIH comes at the right time to take advantage of opportunities to improve human health, powered by advances in scientific knowledge and technological innovation.

Looking across the portfolio

While Alzheimer’s is clearly a priority in FY 2016, increased funding in FY2016 will allow expanded support of the full spectrum of NIA’s traditional areas of emphasis, including demographic and behavioral aspects of aging; clinical aspects of aging, including management of multiple chronic conditions; and investigations into the basis of the aging process, with an emphasis on geroscience—the intersection of the aging process and the diseases that typically occur later in life. Current and prospective grantees should work with your program officials across the Institute to discuss application opportunities.

At this time, we cannot state with any certainty exactly how the influx of new funds will affect our pay line. As Director of Extramural Activities and Blog Editor Dr. Robin Barr has done in the past, he will continue to post all changes to funding policies on our website and inform you of these changes with an Inside NIA blog post.

Applying for new funds

Finally, I encourage all of you with an interest in aging research—including those of you in small businesses who are eager to turn translational research into practical benefits for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers—to look for our announcements and outreach over the next months. We encourage your submissions particularly in Alzheimer’s in response to the Program Announcements, as well as other recent NIA Funding Opportunities to see how you can take advantage of this generous boost to resources for aging research.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and most productive 2016.