Skip to main content

Continuing to stretch the boundaries of biology

Ron Kohanski
Ronald KOHANSKI,
Director, Division of Aging Biology,
Division of Aging Biology (DAB)
.

This is my first post for Inside NIA as the new director of NIA’s Division of Aging Biology (DAB), and I am excited by the opportunity to lead such talented colleagues. Many of you know me (and some still speak to me) but I wanted to introduce myself and mention a few ideas about DAB past, present, and future.

Aging biology’s long roots at NIA

In my career path, I’m thankful to have teamed with trailblazers like my predecessor Felipe Sierra, who helped shape our division and the field of geroscience. Built from the hypothesis that slowing the rate at which we age could be key to delaying and reducing the severity of chronic disease and dysfunction that can happen later in life, geroscience has since matured (pardon the pun) into an international discipline and spawned a Trans-NIH Geroscience Interest Group.

DAB’s roots stretch back over three decades to NIA’s Longevity Assurance Genes funding opportunities, which helped establish biology of aging as an important field of study. Today our interdisciplinary, diverse scientific portfolios are a mosaic of basic, applied, and translational work. We aim to continue supporting research on the external and internal factors that determine lifespan and impact the rate at which we age, with increasing attention to improving health at older ages. Achieving these goals is accelerated through collaborations among NIA’s scientific divisions and across NIH through individual contacts and initiatives as well as the Geroscience Interest Group.

We are also seeking to expand our team by recruiting for five new positions for program officers who will develop new or enrich existing portfolios, including immunology; cardiac/vascular/pulmonary aging; microbiomes; and emerging technologies.

Sustaining strengths, new horizons

Here’s my quick take on how DAB can keep growing our strengths while stretching our presence in a few new areas of great importance to NIA and NIH:

  • DAB has a solid track record of supporting research into mechanisms of basic biology in animals and in vitro systems. We intend to expand on that by increasing our support for emerging technologies and computational tools in these areas.
  • We provide significant support for biological mechanisms research in scientific studies involving human participants, which is an underappreciated but critical aspect of our portfolio. We plan to pursue new directions atop that strong existing foundation.
  • We are especially optimistic about greater inclusion of new technologies in research on the basic biology of human aging with the recent renewal and expansion of the Nathan Shock Centers (NSC) program. Building on prior successes, the NSC program continues to support the next generation of investigators in the biology of aging.
  • While we currently have a limited portfolio of support for research on health inequities, we are well aware of the dire need to better address this issue across NIH and around the country. As part of that urgent task, I am seeking a division deputy director to be my partner in this endeavor, whose mandate will be to promote greater understanding of the biological processes underpinning health inequities as these impact older adults. Our new colleague will join ongoing NIA- and NIH-wide efforts to address health inequities through their own portfolio development and as DAB’s primary liaison with the NIA Office of Special Populations and the NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

The motto of my graduate school is “knowledge increases, life improves.” Along with my passionate and dedicated colleagues, I am grateful for the opportunity to help you make that a reality. Please share your ideas (and your grant applications) with us — your program officers — at DAB.

Comments

Submitted by Kurt Runge on May 05, 2021

While Dr. Kohanski's short blog does not have room to encompass all of the topics supported by DAB, it is worth emphasizing that model systems from single cells to microscopic multicellular organisms are fundamental to elucidating the biology of aging. How proteins and RNAs act, how cells respond to and govern these actions, and how complex pathways and processes merge to regulate lifespan are basic science questions that require tractable, easily manipulated model systems allowing defined questions to be pursued in depth.

DAB support of these basic science inquiries, whether or not they directly relate to human aging, are an essential part of understanding of the processes that govern lifespan and healthspan. Consequently, the research portfolio of DAB needs to maintain (or, in my view, expand) support of basic research into tractable model organisms to provide the foundation for interpreting the complex biology of aging humans.

Submitted by Leon B Kassman on May 05, 2021

First, let me extend my best wishes for this position's extending your own passions with the acknowledgement that the 'Process of Aging' so critically impacts all of our Natural Biology in ways that each of us experience differentially, almost as new people, as we age.

Because of the depth and importance of the inquiry, it might be helpful if you could post the top 5 or 6 areas you might like to see proposed research.

Thank you,
Leon

Add new comment

Your e-mail address will not be posted.
About text formats

Plain text

  • Allowed HTML tags: <p> <br>
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.