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Hope for the New Year

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

At NIA, each new year brings an opportunity to take stock of what we have accomplished working together with all of you and to recommit to our efforts supporting research that will ultimately benefit public health and quality of life. When I last wrote a New Year’s look ahead, it was before we knew that we’d soon face the COVID-19 crisis, which continues to be an unprecedented scourge of our time. It has been heartbreaking to witness the tragedy of millions who have lost their lives, have lost loved ones, or who are still suffering from this disease.

Yet, there is hope: The sustained investment in research over past years enabled scientists worldwide to move forward collaboratively and with extraordinary efficiency to develop highly effective vaccines through innovative technologies in less than a year.

This is wonderful news for the world, and especially for older adults, who are among the most vulnerable to the virus due to age-related changes in the immune system and many other factors. While COVID precautions have presented obstacles to science operating as usual, NIA-supported investigators are conducting vital research on COVID-19’s impact on older adults. This work includes examinations of how the virus magnifies racial and socioeconomic health disparities, the association between comorbidities and COVID hospitalization, the impact of COVID-related neurological disorders, and addressing the spread of the virus in nursing homes and other communal living facilities.

This rapid progress has been a testament to the importance of diversity in the scientific workforce and the incredible adaptability and dedication among researchers. My sincere wish is that history will also remember the many heroes who won’t be featured in future biographies and textbooks: At NIH and well beyond, we are indebted to each and every one of the essential lab workers, clinicians, delivery drivers, facilities and custodial staff, and information technology experts, just to name a few, who strived to keep us connected and productive during this difficult time.

Continued support for aging science

Some other good news as we head into 2021: The pandemic perhaps helped highlight the value and wisdom of the continued strong investment in biomedical innovation and infrastructure. As signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, the FY 2021 omnibus appropriations bill includes $3.899 billion for NIA and represents an overall $300 million increase in federal funding for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD) research. With these increases, NIA is humbled and energized as we become the third largest of the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers.

Join us for exciting 2021 events!

This year is sure to be a banner one for aging research collaboration. Soon, we’ll be posting the online application form for the 2021 Butler-Williams Scholars Program to be held this August. This jewel in NIA’s crown gives diverse junior faculty and researchers new to aging research an opportunity to learn about our field and connect with NIA program and scientific review staff. Look for my colleague Patricia Jones’ post on this topic next month.

And please mark your calendars for a “don’t miss” event, our 2021 Alzheimer's Disease Research Summit slated for April 19-22. Through this virtual meeting, NIA will convene some of the field’s brightest stars and welcome new investigators and trainees to this exciting area of research. This year’s summit will focus on the path to precision medicine for treatment and prevention of AD. Keep an eye on the NIA website, including this blog, for more details — coming soon!

Until then, I wish you good health and happiness as we begin this new year. Thank you for maintaining crucial scientific momentum despite challenging circumstances. While there are still hurdles to overcome, NIA is here to offer support for your work. Stay connected with us!

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