Next steps for the biology of health disparities
For those of you I haven’t met yet, I’m Dr. Stacy Carrington-Lawrence, the new deputy director of NIA’s Division of Aging Biology (DAB). I’m excited to be here! Part of my job is to connect with the extramural community to discuss and build upon our research priorities, including understanding the mechanisms, hallmarks, and biomarkers of aging; exploring assessments of the rates of aging (including lifespan and healthspan); and developing methods to alter them to improve health as we age.
Joining DAB was a natural fit for me. In my previous career as an HIV/AIDS researcher, part of my focus was on HIV and aging as well as health disparities. And of course, addressing health disparities of aging is a long-standing interest and priority for DAB and the broader NIA. Therefore, another component of my new role is working with the scientific community to expand the field’s growing interest in defining the biological basis of aging-related health disparities. Understanding the role of molecular and cellular processes in health disparities can lead to novel and improved treatments that work for everyone regardless of background.
Building on the biology of health disparities
Many of you may have read the NIA Health Disparities Framework, including the category that lists several biological factors thought to play a role in health disparities. Although DAB supports and promotes research on each of these factors, our current health disparities portfolio examining these variables is modest. Our goal in 2022 and moving forward is to expand and diversify this portfolio, with collaborative input from my colleagues across NIA including the Office of Special Populations.
We are renewing our efforts now and will continue to do so in the coming years to address the gaps in our health disparities portfolio. We aim to achieve that by increasing our support for research on common biological pathways and processes of aging, and studies to expand understanding of physiological aging within and across different health disparities populations.
An integrated approach
DAB support for animal models remains instrumental in aging research and has led to critical advances that have enabled us to understand the cellular and molecular basis of longevity, differential rates of aging, and the role of our environment in how we age. We are now directing our attention to translating some of these discoveries from animal models to humans as we move our health disparities portfolio and human subjects research forward. These efforts to better understand health and health disparities in humans require basic research with data and samples from human study participants.
Specifically, over the next few years, DAB will implement a strategy advancing research to identify the biological mechanisms and biologic risk factors that accelerate or slow down human aging. This will involve an integrated and collaborative approach that includes examining the hallmarks of aging; understanding how organ systems and processes interact with one another as we age; and exploring how to best utilize and develop animal models and emerging technologies to inform research advances in diverse populations. If you want to be part of this effort, please contact us for more information.
I look forward to working more closely with you this year and beyond. If you are interested in learning more about DAB’s efforts to strengthen and grow basic research on health disparities, please email me or leave a comment below. And if your research team is exploring these important issues, we urge you to keep an eye on the “Inside NIA” blog and the DAB webpage for future related funding opportunities in the biology of health disparities.