A new NIA-funded resource synergizes efforts of aging research centers
There’s an old saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” That sums up an exciting new NIA-funded resource—the Research Centers Collaborative Network—that promises to advance aging research by bringing different research groups and disciplines together.
The NIA Center programs
NIA funds a variety of awards to support aging research, career development, and research resources. One particularly fruitful set of awards is the NIA Centers, which is comprised of six programs:
- Alzheimer's Disease Centers
- Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers (OAICs)
- Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging
- Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMARs)
- Edward R. Roybal Centers for Translation Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences of Aging
- Centers on the Demography and Economics of Aging
Collectively, these Center programs involve more than 90 individual awards across the country. They are beehives of activity, supporting the gamut of aging research and training from bench science to clinical trials. They’re also incubators for pilot projects and other smaller studies that often grow into larger, independent projects. The sites within an individual Center program often collaborate with each other on projects of mutual interest. However, until recently, collaborations across different Center programs has been limited.
A resource to promote Center program collaborations
Enter the NIA Research Centers Collaborative Network (RCCN). Led by the American Federation for Aging Research and investigators at Wake Forest School of Medicine, the RCCN is a new NIA-funded resource that aims to bridge Centers programs and promote collaborations across Center areas. The RCCN embodies a team science approach based on the understanding that addressing the thorniest problems in aging research requires a merging of disciplines. While the easy problems and low-hanging fruit have been addressed by investigators working largely in their own disciplines, the more difficult problems will require investigators from different fields to learn one another’s languages and operate within new and unfamiliar shared spaces.
The RCCN has bold plans. In a few short months, they established an organizational structure involving the leadership of all six NIA Center programs and NIA program staff to coordinate its activities. That is no small feat, considering the diversity and complexity of NIA’s existing Center programs. The RCCN also initiated a webinar series, the first of which, “Building Cross-Disciplinary Collaborations in Aging,” took place on September 24, 2018. Next up is a series of cross-disciplinary conferences relevant to at least four Center programs that will first identify specific cross-cutting research priorities and then initiate pilot studies addressing those priorities. In fact, the first of these conferences, “Achieving and Sustaining Behavior Change to Benefit Older Adults,” is taking place this week. Additionally, the RCCN is creating resources to help develop the next generation of faculty skilled in interdisciplinary research. They will also work with the NIA Centers to disseminate the RCCN’s activities, make aging research resources available to the broader scientific community, and foster collaborations across other NIH-funded programs and beyond.
The RCCN promises to be a terrific resource, not only for the many investigators at NIA’s research center programs, but also to the entire aging research community. To find out more about the RCCN, visit their website. You can see archives of their webinars and conferences, find out about additional planned resources and activities, and sign up for their newsletter.
While the RCCN is an exciting resource with many opportunities for synergy, I fear that those synergies will not trickle down to programs and researchers that are not part of the six Centers. For many researchers at small programs, especially young researchers, having collaboration opportunities is an individual exercise to identify someone who might be interested and contact them. Professional meetings certainly provide scope for this. However, a more intentional forum would be a boon, especially for young researchers. The RCCN website explicitly states that it is for collaboration across the NIA Centers. I am afraid that those who are not part of this group may find themselves marginalized.