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About IRP

Scientific Director: Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D.

The Intramural Research Program (IRP) in the National Institute on Aging (NIA) is comprised of nine scientific laboratories, the Translational Gerontology Branch, and ten core facilities.  The research program has three main focus areas: Neuroscience, Aging Biology and Translational Gerontology. IRP scientists conduct research in many different disciplines that range from basic science to clinical research and epidemiology. Medical problems, which typically affect older persons, are studied in depth using the tools of modern laboratory and clinical research, with a translational perspective.  The central focus of our research is understanding age-related changes in physiology and the ability to adapt to environmental stress.  This understanding is then applied to developing insight about the pathophysiology of age-related diseases.  The program seeks to understand the changes associated with healthy aging and to define the criteria for evaluating when changes should be considered  pathologic and require treatment.   Thus, in addition to study common age-related diseases, such as  Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, osteoarthritis, diabetes and cancer, we also explore the determinants of healthy aging as possible targets for interventions aimed at improving health and quality of life in the older population at large.

IRP research is conducted in multiple sites; most of the basic science laboratories are located at the Biomedical Research Center on the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus in Baltimore, Maryland. The Laboratory of Clinical Investigation is located at Harbor Hospital, a few miles south of the Bayview Campus in Baltimore, Maryland. The NIA Clinical Research Unit at Harbor Hospital is also home of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, a longitudinal study of aging that was started as far in time as 1958.  The Laboratory of Neurogenetics are located on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, and the Laboratory of Epidemiology, and Population Science is co-located in the Gateway Building in Bethesda and the Biomedical Research Center in Baltimore. Finally, the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span study (HANDLS), a longitudinal study that addresses health disparities associated with race and socio-economic status, is profoundly rooted in several Baltimore neighborhoods.

The IRP provides a stimulating academic setting that encourages and fosters a comprehensive effort to understand aging through multidisciplinary investigator-initiated research. Particular emphasis is put on the value of synergistic interaction and collaboration through inter-laboratory collaboration. The program offers many excellent training opportunities in both laboratory and clinical medicine with a wealth of valuable resources. The NIA is committed to training researchers for lifetime careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

About Our Founder: Nathan W. Shock, Ph.D. 

NIA's Intramural Research Program was founded by Nathan Wetherell Shock, Ph.D. began his gerontology career in 1941 as the chief of the newly formed Unit on Gerontology of the Division of Physiology of the five-year-old National Institute of Health. He took this two-man aging unit and built it into the internationally respected Gerontology Research Center of the National Institute on Aging, NIH.

Dr. Shock was the catalyst for the emergence of aging research in the United States and overseas for nearly half a century. It was Dr. Shock's insistence on answering what he considered the discipline's two critical questions that made an impact on the field of gerontology: "What are the underlying biological factors that produce what we perceive as aging?" and, "What are the mechanisms that produce impaired performance with age?" For aging, he insisted, was not a disease.

Dr. Shock directed NIH intramural aging studies for 35 years until his retirement as first Scientific Director of the National Institute on Aging in 1976. During his leadership he helped plan and implement the construction of the gerontology building located on the grounds of what is now the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition, he presided over the recruitment and training of hundreds of scientists and clinicians and the development of five major laboratories covering a wide range of biomedical and psychological research on aging. Dr. Shock was one of the first scientists to foresee the importance of using longitudinal methods to study human aging. In the late fifties, he and his colleagues began the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Officially retiring in 1977, Dr. Shock continued his work as Scientist Emeritus until his death in 1989. Dr. Shock was the recipient of awards from every major national society on aging, he was a founder (with Kornchevsky) and president of the International Association of Gerontological Societies, and a founding member and president of the Gerontological Society of America.