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Scientific Resources

Infrastructure may seem like an odd word to use when thinking about research into Alzheimer’s disease. We want to see clinical trial results. We want answers on the basic mechanisms. We want prevention measures. And we want them all now! Infrastructure may seem less exciting, but it’s absolutely necessary to achieve our goals for research in Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why NIA has substantially increased the grant award to the Indiana University School of Medicine for the National Centralized Repository for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (NCRAD). NCRAD stores DNA and other biological samples used by researchers around the world to better understand, treat, and hopefully cure Alzheimer's disease. It provides critical infrastructure to further research into the basic mechanisms of the disease.

NIA has expanded the size of NCRAD to allow greatly increased capacity to store and share samples with interested investigators. Such researchers would otherwise need to seek out smaller sample sets from different sites—a little like crowd-sourcing instead of having a single large donor. NCRAD will continue to provide centralized, state-of-the-art protocols and training to collect and process a wide range of samples. It will also continue efficiently reviewing sample requests to ensure that these research resources are used wisely.

We anticipate that expanding NCRAD in this way will allow a large number and broader range of studies—now including induced pluripotent stem cell lines—to advance. This new work will help the national goal of developing ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and its related dementias by 2025.

In case you don’t know NCRAD

NCRAD’s goal is to support research focused on the origin, early detection, and therapeutic development for AD/ADRD. First funded by NIA in 1990, NCRAD is a national resource where clinical information and biological materials such as DNA, plasma, serum, RNA, cerebral spinal fluid, cell lines, and brain tissue can be stored.

NCRAD collects, maintains, and provides scientists with access to more than 600,000 biological samples. The repository’s resources have been used by more than 150 scientists and resulted in more than 500 scientific publications.

With the increased funding support, we expect that the biobank will receive 300,000 additional specimens in the next three years. I encourage you to contact NCRAD if you’re interested in banking samples from your studies to facilitate sample sharing, or if you’d like to use existing samples to pursue new and innovative research ideas for AD/ADRD.

We are pleased to support the NCRAD expansion, which we hope will play a key role in the race to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Please contact me or comment below if you have questions.

Alzheimer's Disease Research Scientific Resources Nina SILVERBERG

NCRAD poised for major expansion

The first study to specifically focus on the effects of sustained caloric restriction (CR) in humans—CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of the Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy)—collected a trove of biosamples and data. CALERIE investigators are now aiming to facilitate new studies and analyses that will take advantage of these resources.

Following up on the initial results published in 2015, NIA worked with the study investigators to establish the CALERIE Research Network and make the CALERIE biorepository and datasets available for further investigations. Now, the Network is conducting a series of workshops which highlight specific scientific topics related to CR research in people and generate new ideas for potential ancillary projects from the research community, especially junior investigators.

The most recent workshop, “Facilitating CALERIE-Based Ancillary Studies” took place on August 3 in Chicago. During expert-led working groups, participants heard presentations on five central themes, led by expert investigators in the field:

  • Genomic/Epigenetic (Dan Belsky)
  • Behavioral/Cognitive (Corby Martin)
  • Circadian Rhythm (Sai Krupa Das & Satchidananda Panda)
  • MicroRNA (Virginia Kraus & Rozalyn Anderson)
  • Metabolomics/Proteomics (Wulan Wulaningsih & Bruce Kristal)

Nurturing new ancillary studies

This summer, NIA announced new funding opportunities for research using CALERIE data: CALERIE R01; CALERIE R21; CTS R01; CTS R21. The CALERIE Research Network will work with aspiring investigators throughout the year to help develop new ideas and to define original concept proposals for applications to these programs.

I encourage anyone interested in analyzing the CALERIE dataset and biospecimens to contact the CALERIE Research Network investigators through the CALERIE website. You may also be interested in joining one or more of the working groups. Some particular areas for exploration include:

  • Behavioral and psychosocial aspects of sustained CR through the CALERIE Computerized Tracking System (CTS) database. CALERIE investigators developed the CTS database to enhance participants’ adherence with intensive behavioral strategies. The CALERIE CTS database has a toolbox of interventions including cognitive, behavioral and problem-solving strategies, training in portion size and calorie content, recipes and shopping lists, and possible involvement of family or friends in counseling sessions. You can learn more about the CTS data available for investigators and how to access it by viewing the webinar, Behavioral Aspects of Sustained Calorie Restriction in Humans.
  • Leveraging the NIH Common Fund initiative in CTS analysis. Researchers interested in the CALERIE CTS database should also look into the NIH Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) Initiative, supported by the NIH Common Fund. The SOBC seeks to develop more effective behavioral interventions by promoting basic research that identifies key mechanisms underlying successful change across a broad array of health-related behaviors, including diet and exercise. The SOBC’s efforts complement the types of behavioral investigations and data analyses that can be implemented through the CTS database. These are powerful resources that truly can help investigators.

If you have additional questions about the CALERIE study or the CALERIE Research Network, please comment below. This field carries high public interest and is very much an opportunity that deserves more attention from researchers on aging.

Funding Opportunities Scientific Resources Giovanna ZAPPALA

CALERIE Network aims to inspire, support new studies

It was great to see so many of you at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference last month! I was thrilled to catch up with colleagues, attend the special events, and learn about many new Alzheimer’s research findings.

In case you missed it, NIA and the Alzheimer’s Association hosted a pre-conference symposium: “Enabling Precision Medicine for Alzheimer’s Disease Through Open Science.” The symposium featured an array of NIA’s open-science research and translational infrastructure programs that are discovering new therapeutic targets and biomarkers and developing data, analytical and research tools for precision medicine research. These programs resulted from NIA’s strategic planning and program development activities carried out in collaboration with a multi-stakeholder community brought together by the NIH AD Research Summits (2012, 2015 and 2018).

Over a day and half, some 250 symposium attendees heard the latest from teams participating in the Accelerated Medicines Partnership for AD (AMP-AD) Target Discovery and Preclinical Validation program and the affiliated programs: M2OVE-AD, Resilience – AD, MODEL-AD and AlzPED. The symposium ended with highlights from the first set of grant awardees from NIA’s Translational Bioinformatics for Drug Repositioning and Combination Therapy program. These programs share two features: They integrate clinical, genomic, and mechanistic research and bring together computational biologists, modelers, and experimentalists.

The goal of these programs is to propagate the open-science research model to accelerate translational learning and make discovery research more reproducible and so advance its successful translation into pre-clinical and clinical research.

Tools for targets: Enter Agora

The symposium also celebrated the launch of the Agora platform. Supported by the NIA and developed by Sage Bionetworks in collaboration with members of the AMP-AD academic and industry teams, Agora is an interactive, web-based tool designed to allow researchers to explore curated genomic analyses from AMP-AD and associated consortia. Perhaps the most exciting component of Agora is the first set of 100+ candidate targets nominated by the AMP-AD teams. These genes and proteins were derived from unbiased computational analyses of genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic data generated from brain and plasma samples collected from multiple longitudinal cohorts and several AD Research Centers’ brain banks.

We’re releasing information on these targets now while it’s still early in the evaluation process to allow input from external researchers and to crowdsource and accelerate the follow-on evaluation. In addition to surveying the AMP-AD target nominations, you can use Agora to see how genes of interest are performing on a set of genomic meta-analyses.

Watch, learn, share

To connect the Agora platform with the different communities of users, the Sage Bionetworks team held a hands-on tutorial workshop at AAIC and gathered user feedback that will help the continued development of the platform. Take a look at the Agora portal walk-through video tutorial for a crash course on how to use Agora, learn about available information, and what data will be released in the future. We hope you will use these data resources to further your research and remember to be diligent about your data-sharing responsibilities as a publicly funded researcher.

We continue to build the new AD translational research infrastructure and expand the open-science research enterprise so we can accelerate the discovery and delivery of precision medicines for AD.

Alzheimer's Disease Dementia Funding Opportunities Research Scientific Resources Suzana PETANCESKA

Symposium celebrates open science, launches new data platform

The late Mayor Ed Koch of New York used to roll down the back window of his limousine when he was stopped at an intersection and yell out to nearby pedestrians: “How’m I doin’?” After an initial startle, many of them would yell back congratulations, complaints, or both. When Koch died, the New York Post published a memorable cover with his photo and the banner headline: “Ya did fine!”

Not perhaps the most sophisticated way to evaluate public policy, but we all should imitate his attitude. In public health, the best way to get a quick check on how we’re doing is to look at mortality rates—accounting for age, since an older population will almost inevitably have higher mortality rates than a young one.

NIA funds research on trends and differences in adult mortality rates, and other health indicators, looking for the risk factors that can be modified at any point in the lifecourse to improve outcomes.

Recent national and state estimates

Demographer Andrew Fenelon at the University of Maryland recently updated his analysis of trends in age-standardized death rates at older ages (55 and above) for the United States as a whole and separately for each state. An interactive visualization tool created by the Population Reference Bureau makes it easy to figure out how any state is doing in terms of health for older people.

The trend lines show that states in the Southern, Appalachian, and Old Midwest regions have been doing poorly. This problem predates the opioid epidemic, having persisted for decades, through multiple presidential administrations, health policy changes, and changes of power in Congress and in state legislatures. Older people in West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Alabama had relatively poor health in 1980 and have seen almost no improvement since then for women and very little for men.

State-level death rates at older ages give us a good, but not perfect, indicator of what’s happening to population health. Death isn’t the only health outcome that matters—although it’s certainly an important one. When death rates are high, other indicators usually look bad as well. And people do move around among states, but not as much as they used to, and not so much at older ages.

U.S. mortality rates in the global context

By world standards, improvement in mortality rates and life expectancy has been slow for the entire U.S., slower than in other rich countries and even some not-terribly-rich countries. We now rank 40th in the world by World Bank estimates in life expectancy at birth, behind countries like Costa Rica and Slovenia that spend vastly less than we do on the health sector … including biomedical research.

Why are we doing so poorly as a nation, and why in particular are some states stalling out and falling behind? What can be done about it?

Recommended reading

The story starts with smoking and obesity rates, but individual behavior is not a final nor a complete answer. Why have people in some states managed to control their health risks while those who live elsewhere have not?

For NIA, these are enduring concerns and we hope to see more research on them. A recent Request for Applications asked for studies to “identify mechanisms, explanations, and modifiable risk factors underlying recent trends of growing inequalities in morbidity and mortality by income, education, and geographic location at older ages in the United States.” That particular RFA has expired, but we still welcome new investigator-initiated applications.

The need for research on these life-and-death issues continues. We don’t have the answers yet, but NIA-funded research in recent years has sharpened the focus:

  • R. Chetty et al., (2016) The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014. JAMA 315: 1750-66. The association between household income and life expectancy (an average of mortality rates at all ages) exists everywhere, but is much stronger in some metropolitan areas than others.
  • L. Dwyer-Lindgren et al., (2017) Inequalities in Life Expectancy among US Counties, 1980 to 2014: Temporal trends and key drivers. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177: 1003-1011. Geographic disparities in mortality at every age are large and growing over time, with county-level differences greatest at ages 65 to 85—ages when almost all Americans are covered by Medicare.
  • J.K. Montez, A. Zajacova, and M.D. Hayward. (2017) Explaining Inequalities in Women’s Mortality across US States. Social Science and Medicine: Population Health 2: 561-571. State-level characteristics (such as tobacco taxes) accounted for 23 percent of the variation across states in men’s mortality rates at older ages, and 53 percent of women’s mortality.

As we begin 2018, if someone asked us how we’re doing, we’d all have to answer: “Not well.” In many states and counties, the answer would be, “Poorly.” Because we’re the National Institute on Aging, we seek to fund research that will contribute to reducing these disparities among regions of our nation. Please contact me or other program staff in our division if you’re interested in submitting an application for research in this area.

Research Scientific Resources John HAAGA

States and regions differ widely in longevity trends

Harvey … Irma … Maria … hurricanes that won’t be forgotten any time soon. And, although they don’t have names, let’s not forget the Mexico City earthquake in September and the northern California wildfires in October. We know that the human, environmental, and economic costs of natural disasters are high. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency show that some extreme weather events such as heat waves and large storm systems are occurring more frequently now than in the past—and this trend is expected to continue.

As we watched these disasters unfold on the news, we saw that people with health problems face particular challenges. Individuals with chronic conditions such as kidney disease or COPD depend on electricity for dialysis machines or oxygen concentrators. People with mobility limitations may have trouble evacuating quickly. And, regardless of their physical health status, many, many people will suffer from psychological issues caused by the loss of property and possessions—and most importantly—of a loved one.

For older adults, such challenges during a natural disaster can be compounded by income and disability status. For example, the deaths of 14 individuals living in a Hollywood, Florida, nursing home from exposure to prolonged extreme heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma have focused particular attention on how to best help older people who live in nursing homes and similar settings before, during, and after natural disasters.

What can research tell us about natural disasters and aging?

The shock of these nursing home deaths tells us that formal care is at times significantly deficient in preparation for disasters, with terrible consequences. Yet, a much broader set of issues confronts us as we grapple with the difficulties that extreme weather presents to older adults. How can we better understand the social, psychological and biological pathways through which these extreme events affect health? What are the paths for resilience and recovery?

One recent study found that older adults exposed to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 experienced steeper increases in pain and functional limitations than those who were not exposed. Another study partially supported by the NIA, found that the severity of housing damage people experienced after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami was associated with elevated dementia risk. A third, which also received NIA support, examined the relationship between evacuation before 2008’s Hurricane Gustav and mortality among people with dementia and found that evacuation led to more deaths than staying put.

These and other studies have given us insights into the complex and unique challenges facing older adults during natural disasters. This research also generated more questions on topics such as:

  • Pros and cons of pre-disaster evacuation
  • Providing post-evacuation family and unpaid caregiving, as well as medical care for chronic conditions, including access to medications
  • Measuring immediate and subsequent environmental, industrial, and psychosocial stress exposure following a disaster.

NIH resources for disaster research

When the top priority is to provide shelter, food, and water to people affected by a disaster, conducting research can pose significant response-time and logistical challenges. The NIH Disaster Research Response website has a wealth of useful information about time-sensitive funding opportunities, data collection tools (including social survey instruments and field protocols for environmental exposures), research protocols tailored to disaster research, and training resources. The site is managed by the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences and is available for use by anyone.

If you weathered a storm

In addition to the damage to homes and other personal property, natural disasters affect businesses, schools, public utilities, and other community resources. NIH has a policy for research institutions affected by natural disasters. If your facility has been closed or damaged, NIH will consider such issues as whether a Federal Disaster is declared; the severity of damage inflicted; the length of time an institution may be required to close or that is needed for recovery; the impact on investigators, human research subjects, and animal subjects; and the overall impact on the community. Submission deadlines for awards and reports can be extended and, in some cases, administrative supplements can be awarded. However, assistance is provided on a case-by-case basis and is not automatic, so be sure to check the website for information.

If you have any questions about NIH resources or policy, or if you’re interested in submitting an application regarding natural disasters and aging, please get in touch with us or comment below.

Research Scientific Resources Amelia KARRAKER

Natural disasters: Conducting research, supporting affected labs

I’m excited to report to you that the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men (MrOS) study group, in collaboration with Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco, announced that 16 years of anonymous data on 5,994 older men are now available online to any researcher worldwide who registers at the study website. I invite those of you with an interest in men’s aging and health to visit the study website to see how you might engage with this exceptional dataset of more than 41,000 variables collected across seven timepoints.

MrOS focuses primarily on risk factors and natural history of osteoporosis and fractures in community-dwelling men aged 65 and older. The wider online access to this dataset, we hope, will expand our knowledge about this common condition and related fracture experience. We all know that when older people break bones, mobility, disability and other health problems follow, which can often lead as well to feelings of isolation or to depression. Beyond quality of life, the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that the economic impact of osteoporosis on the health care system could reach $25.3 billion per year by 2025.

What data are available from MrOS?

The project is funded by the NIA and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). The dataset includes information on study participants recruited at six academic and clinical centers from across the country: the University of Alabama at Birmingham; the University of Minnesota; the University of Pittsburgh; Stanford University; the Oregon Health & Science University, and the University of California, San Diego.

The study built its impressive database over many years. At baseline, the MrOS team examined the participants for fracture risk and conducted neuromuscular visual and cognitive function tests, along with spinal x-rays, and hip and spine bone density exams. They also collected biospecimens. The study’s scope expanded to include assessment of a variety of additional factors, such as oral health, sleep, cardiovascular disease, and falls and physical performance. Participants have been contacted three times a year since their baseline visit via mailed questionnaire for ascertainment of falls, fractures, death and other health measures. A full list of variables for analyses appears on the study’s website.

What are some of the findings of the MrOS study?

Use of the data thus far has been very productive. In some 300 publications citing MrOS data, researchers have discovered determinants of bone loss, risk factors for falls and fractures, advanced imaging techniques for bone, strategies for screening for osteoporosis, and genetic influences on osteoporosis. Highlights of some specific findings show a clear relationship between low vitamin D levels and more rapid rates of bone loss and higher fracture risk in men than in women, that low testosterone levels were associated with increased risk of falls, that gait speed is a powerful predictor of mortality and may be a key vital sign in older men, and that older adults with type 2 diabetes have a higher fracture risk.

Why is the availability of this dataset important?

By making these data more widely available via the website, NIA and NIAMS hope that open access for more researchers to this valuable dataset, especially to investigators in other disciplines outside the osteoporosis field, can help further advance our knowledge of healthy aging, osteoporosis, fractures, and falls, as well as how particular medical conditions may interact with the environment and patient lifestyle to affect healthy aging. We must learn all that we can to help individuals, clinicians, and society address such an important influence on health and overall well-being.

We welcome investigators interested in collaborating with the MrOS study to register at the MrOS website and review the MrOS Publication Guidelines. We also welcome your comments on this post.

Research Scientific Resources Lyndon JOSEPH

Release of MrOS dataset offers new opportunities for investigators

On November 8, I will be traveling to Denver, along with several NIA senior staff, for the NIA Director’s Regional Meeting on Aging Research, this time taking place at the University of Colorado, Denver. The meeting is part of our continuing effort to meet communities around the country who have a commitment to the problems of aging and the potential of aging research to address them. During the day-long meeting, we will describe current funding opportunities for researchers, particularly those who may be new to the field of aging research and/or those interested in health disparities research.

We know that travel funds are short for too many researchers, and that is particularly true for students and junior faculty. But we hope this meeting will attract researchers throughout the region. We have found these regional sessions to be a great way for us to reach out and engage with you in your own setting, “outside the Beltway” and beyond e-mail and websites. I’m looking forward to being there for productive conversations with participants about new opportunities in the field of aging research.

An all-star NIA lineup for this road trip

Each of NIA’s extramural divisions will be represented, providing a direct opportunity to speak with our team about your specific area of research. Scheduled to join me in Denver are:

  • Marie A. Bernard, M.D., NIA Deputy Director
  • Robin Barr, Ph.D., Director, Division of Extramural Activities
  • John Haaga, Ph.D., Director, Division of Behavioral and Social Research
  • Ron Kohanski, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Division of Aging Biology
  • Evan Hadley, M.D., Director, Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology
  • Eliezer Masliah, M.D., Director, Division of Neurosciences
  • Carl V. Hill, Ph.D., Director, Office of Special Populations

In the morning session, we’ll outline the NIH grant application process. We’ll share information about current NIA priorities, and each division leader will discuss activities of their respective divisions. Two breakout sessions in the afternoon will offer a forum for participants to ask specific questions related to the NIA's research divisions and programs, training, and small business innovation research and technology transfer programs.

A focus on the needs of Native populations

We are pleased to be the guests of Dr. Spero Manson, director of the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health, and associate dean of research in the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Center. He oversees the activities of several national centers focused on research, program development, training, and collaboration with 250 Native communities in rural, reservation, urban, and village settings across the country. The Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health is supported by NIA through the NIA-funded Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) network.

Dr. Manson and Dr. Hill, director of our Office Special Populations, will lead a panel discussion on how NIA can help stimulate health disparities research related to aging and engage Native investigators in our research activities. We know there are a several barriers to participation in biomedical research, including geographically remote locations, historical resistance to U.S. government agencies, and socioeconomic circumstances. We hope that Native American scholars in particular will take advantage of this opportunity to hear about our research interests first hand and provide valuable feedback on how we can structure our activities to meet the needs of their communities.

Another key focus of our visit is to make sure that the excitement around increased funding for research on Alzheimer’s and related dementias is experienced by as broad a community of scientists as we can reach. We have a unique opportunity with increased public investment to move closer to better prevention and treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and now is the time for investigators to move the field forward with creativity, innovation, and inclusiveness.

If you plan to attend

There is no fee to attend this meeting, but participants should register online in advance. Participants, however, must pay for their own travel and lodging. The link to travel instructions (PDF, 496K) is here.

I encourage you to attend this meeting to hear about the NIA and our many training and research opportunities and for us to hear from you about the best ways to bring increased diversity into the research enterprise, among the scientific workforce and for all the communities of older people that we serve. I look forward to seeing you next month.

Diversity Meetings Scientific Resources Richard HODES

You're invited! - Regional meeting for investigators in Denver Nov. 8

If you’re a faithful reader of the blog, you may have noticed things looking a little different around here in the past couple of months. You’re not imagining things! You are, indeed, on a brand-new NIA website! This summer, NIA revealed a site full of features designed to help new and seasoned researchers and trainees find the information you need.

Now, we’re mobile responsive, so you’ll be able to browse the site on your phone, tablet, or laptop with ease. Building on best practices in web design, using federal web design standards, and employing analytics on how researchers visit NIA online, we’ve developed a site that is easier to search and navigate. It’s also optimized for Google and other search engines.

New features for researchers

In addition to an updated look and feel, we’ve revised or added a few new features—in addition to the content you are familiar with—aimed at your research interests.

One of the most important changes to each division page is the addition of specific information of interest to that division’s current and potential grantees. For example, the Division of Aging Biology page has information on geroscience and the Nathan Shock Centers. Check out the Division of Behavioral and Social Research page for data resources and links to publications and workshop reports. The Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology describes its research goals and priorities. And, the Division of Neuroscience page has information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias initiatives and collaborations; it’s important to note that these initiatives are open to the entire research community.

Other highlights of the new site include:

  • Grants & Funding – Visit the Grants & Funding portal for information on NIA funding policies, pay lines, scientific review, and resources to support researchers seeking support. As ever, you can find NIA funding opportunities in the NIH Grants Guide. If you’re looking for FOAs in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, you can find a listing here. And don’t forget to read the blog for the latest updates!
  • Training & Career Development – The Training & Career Development pages are a one-stop shop for information on training opportunities funded by and at NIA, including opportunities for post-bac, pre-doc, post-doc, and other training programs.
  • Connect with resources from the Intramural Research Program (IRP) – The NIA IRP website has been integrated into the main NIA site. This makes it easier to find information on IRP labs and research, including recent findings and publications, information about the core facilities, as well as training and job opportunities.
  • Research resources – With the new Scientific Resources Database, researchers, trainees, and students can find information about and links to NIA-supported resources and datasets in a single place. Users can search by keyword, division, or category. This database includes the many valuable biological, clinical, and data resources available for your use.

We also want to point out—particularly for those of you who see patients or interact with study participants on a regular basis—that the NIA website is a premium resource for evidence-based consumer information on health and aging. Web content focuses on aspects of healthy aging, including the benefits of physical activity and exercise through NIA’s Go4Life campaign. We also feature in-depth information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, from basic facts to caregiving approaches. You or your patients can order print copies of these materials, as well.

Let us hear from you!

We hope you find the new site easy to use and fun to browse, but this is a living and ongoing effort, with room to profit from your input. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below, or email

Scientific Resources Jennifer WATSON Olivia KENT

The investigator's guide to the new NIA website

Now that we’re all back to work or back to school with the end of summer, I’d like to update you on some of the recent activities of NIA’s Office of Special Populations. We’re looking forward to a fall of funding opportunities and continued connections with you all to promote and support health disparities research related to aging.

The 2017 Butler-Williams Scholars Program was a huge success! More than 50 early-career investigators were accepted to this year’s program. In late July, they traveled to the NIH campus to hear tips on developing grant applications and to discuss best practices in conducting rigorous aging research. This year’s class was very exciting, because of their energy and dedication to pursuing aging research. You can follow the 2017 Butler-Williams Scholars on Twitter at #BWSCholars2017 as they seek to become NIA-supported investigators and leaders in various aging research fields. We want to thank the John A. Hartford Foundation/Wake Forest University for its support of the B-W Scholars and the Alzheimer’s Association for sponsoring ancillary activities associated with this year’s program.

Butler-Williams Scholars Program alumni organized and participated in a professional development panel session during the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics World Congress in San Francisco. Kudos to all of our Butler-Williams Scholars, past and present, for their spirit and keeping the momentum moving!

Research applications earn awards

The NIA Health Disparities Research Framework continues to serve as an anchor for stimulating health disparities research related to aging. Check out our new video that explains the utility of this important tool. We recently collaborated with colleagues at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to publish a perspective on oral health disparities.

As we noted in a previous blog, the Office of Special Populations teamed with the NIA Division of Aging Biology and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to develop the funding opportunity announcement (FOA), PA-17-164 Aging Biology Research to Address Health Disparities. This FOA focuses on the biological level of analysis of the Framework and stimulated research supplement proposals on cellular, physiological, and genetic processes that enable the consequences of harsh environmental conditions to become biologically embedded. NIA and NIMHD have just made the first six awards in response to this FOA, which is no longer active. Projects range from tests of stress/social adversity on multiple biomarkers of accelerated biological aging to the development of a social stress model to investigate the effect of psychological stress in aged mice on inflammation and control of tuberculosis infection. We look forward to results from these innovative research projects!

NIA also continues to encourage applications from a vast number of research disciplines for “PAR-15-349 Health Disparities and Alzheimer’s Disease (R01)” and “PAR-15-350 Emerging Directions for Addressing Health Disparities in Alzheimer’s Disease (R03)”. Both FOAs invite research applications for health disparities research on Alzheimer’s Disease in diverse populations. To date, NIA has supported over 30 research applications from these FOAs. During the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), I had an opportunity to highlight a few of these awards and to co-chair—along with AAIC Scientific Program Committee Co-Chair Dr. Rachel Whitmer—a panel session devoted to introducing projects supported by these FOAs. Check out my comments during AAIC about the Framework and the work of our NIA awardees who are responding with rigorous health disparities research related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Activities on the horizon

Looking ahead, we’re excited to hold the 2017 NIA Director’s Regional Meeting on November 8, 2017. It will take place in the Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building on the University of Colorado, Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. NIA senior staff and division directors will be on hand to provide information on NIA research and training resources, technical assistance on grant writing, and advice on the design of new research proposals. You can register for this NIA outreach activity here.

If you are planning to attend the 2017 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, I hope you’ll check out the activities of its Aging and Public Health Section. A session on Wednesday, November 8, at 10:30 a.m. will highlight the community based participatory research by some of the investigators at the NIA-funded Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research.

I will also be leading a panel session at the Research Centers in Minority Institutions meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, October 30, in Washington, D.C. I’ll be joined by investigators in aging research who are using the NIA Disparities Framework to conduct health disparities research on the influence of stress/resilience to understand health disparities in the aging population, the influence of environmental and sociocultural factors on health disparities related to Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular health disparities among older adults.

I hope you’ll join us in Denver, Atlanta, or Washington to discuss NIA’s resources and hear about aging research from our awardees!

Diversity Meetings Scientific Resources Carl V. HILL

Update, opportunities from NIA's Office of Special Populations

CALERIE? Yes, CALERIE, not CALORIE. (And, yes, we do know how to spell here at NIA!)

On September 7, 2017, NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology and the CALERIE Research Network will host a workshop where information about datasets and stored biospecimens from the CALERIE trial will be introduced to investigators. The workshop’s goal is to learn more about how restricting our calories affects our underlying biology—what mechanisms of action are involved in calorie restriction.

The workshop agenda and other information can be found at

What is CALERIE?

CALERIE stands for Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy, the first clinical trial to test the effects of caloric restriction (CR) in people. Following a six-month pilot feasibility and safety trial in 2005, the CALERIE team embarked on Phase 2, a three-site randomized controlled trial in young and middle-aged non-obese healthy men and women to assess the effects of a two-year, 25-percent CR regimen vs. a normal diet control group. Results, published in 2015, found that the CR group participants achieved 12 percent CR and sustained 10 percent weight loss over the course of the study. Research questions particularly emphasized the adaptive responses thought to be involved in slowing aging and protecting against age-related disease processes. Further aims included the identification of potential adverse effects of CR in people, quality of life, and psychological and cognitive functioning.

After the findings were reported, NIA established the CALERIE Research Network to make the research resources of this trial publicly available. We hope that the access to trial data through this network will create a broad community of investigators able to ask new questions of the data and advance the field.

What’s in the CALERIE database?

The CALERIE database contains information from study participants on physiological and immune functions, physical performance, psychological outcomes, dietary records, disease risk factors, blood chemistry, and hematology. The biospecimen repository includes serum, plasma, urine, muscle, and fat.

The study team developed the Intensive Intervention Database, a toolkit that allows investigators to identify the major factors affecting individual participants’ interventions and adherence over the course of the trial. A computer-based algorithm provides specific strategies in Behavioral/Environmental and Nutritional/Dietary Toolboxes. You can use these resources to identify key pathways that respond to CR, and for targets for novel interventions in aging research. You can also examine a variety of risk factors, aging-related outcomes, and psychological and behavioral factors that interact with lowered caloric intake and weight loss.

What makes the CALERIE resource unique?

The CALERIE database and biorepository represent unique research resources for understanding the biological mechanisms underlying the effects of CR in people. The duration and degree of CR, as well as the magnitude of the resulting weight loss sustained in non-obese people in the CALERIE trial, had not been previously attained in a clinical study. In addition, the substantial size of the study, the comprehensive clinical data and physiologic assessments, and the extensive biological samples collected are not available anywhere else.

For those who cannot attend the workshop in person, the event will be streamed live via WebEx and then uploaded to the CALERIE website. You can find details on the WebEx, along with more information about the CALERIE Research Network at

Clinical Research Scientific Resources Giovanna ZAPPALA

CALERIE Research Network builds new opportunities in aging research