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NIA logo   National Institute on Aging
Mission | Important Events | Director | Programs | Appropriations


In 1974 Congress authorized the establishment of the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The NIA is responsible for “conduct and support of biomedical, social, and behavioral research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the aging process and diseases and other special problems and needs of the aged.”

Important Events in NIA History

December 2, 1971 – The White House Conference on Aging recommended the creation of a separate National Institute on Aging.

May 31, 1974 – Public Law 93-296 authorized the establishment of a National Institute on Aging and required that the institute develop a national comprehensive plan to coordinate the HEW agencies involved in aging research.

October 7, 1974 – The National Institute on Aging was established.

April 23, 1975 – First meeting of the National Advisory Council on Aging was held.

July 1, 1975 – The Adult Development and Aging Branch and Gerontology Research Center were separated from their parent institute to become the core of the National Institute on Aging.

December 8, 1976 – The research plan required by P.L. 93-296 was transmitted to the Congress.

September 20, 1982 – NIA Laboratory of Neurosciences Clinical Program admitted the first inpatient to a new unit at the NIH Clinical Center.

September 9-11, 1983 – The institute marked the 25th anniversary of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The first volunteers joined this unique study in 1958.

1984 – NIA funded Alzheimer’s Disease Centers around the country where researchers at medical institutions work to cure and prevent this disorder, while improving care and diagnosis.

November 14, 1986 – P.L. 99-660, section 951-952, authorized the NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center as a part of a broad program to conduct research and distribute information about Alzheimer’s disease to health professionals, patients and their families, and the general public.

November 4, 1988 – P.L. 100-607 established the Geriatric Research and Training Centers (GRTC).

1988 – Congress authorized NIA to make LEAD awards to researchers who had made significant contributions to Alzheimer’s disease research.

1990 – The GRTCs were expanded and renamed the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers and charged with conducting research in diseases that threaten independent living.

1993 – Six Edward Roybal Centers for Research on Applied Gerontology were authorized to convert research findings into programs that improve the lives of older people and their families.

NIA funded six Exploratory Centers for Minority Aging and Health Promotion in collaboration with the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health.

1994 – Nine demography of aging centers were funded to provide research on health, economics, and aging to make more effective use of data from several national surveys of health, retirement, and long-term care.

1995 – Three Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in Basic Biology of Aging were established to further the study of the basic processes of aging.

The Federal Task Force on Aging Research report is published containing nearly 200 specific recommendations for increased emphasis in ten general areas of research.

1999 – As part of NIA’s 25th anniversary celebration, a strategic plan was formulated and made available for public comment. The plan addressed scientific topics holding the greatest promise for advancing knowledge in areas such as the basic biology of aging, geriatrics, and social and behavioral functioning.

Biographical Sketch of NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D.

Dr. Hodes was appointed NIA director on May 27, 1993. He was born on December 31, 1943, in New York City. He received his B.A. from Yale University (summa cum laude) in 1965 and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School (magna cum laude) in 1971.

His postgraduate training included an internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital department of medicine. Before attending medical school, he was a research fellow at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Before joining NIA, he was senior investigator and chief of the immune regulation section at NCI’s Experimental Immunology Branch.

Since 1982 Dr. Hodes has served as program coordinator for the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Cancer Research Program; since 1992 on the scientific advisory board of the Cancer Research Institute; and since 1995 as a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. He is an editor of several journals including the Journal of Experimental Medicine and Therapeutic Immunology and is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

In 1997 he was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received a PHS Commendation Medal in 1977, a PHS Outstanding Service Medal in 1988, and a PHS Distinguished Service Medal in 1996. In 1999 Dr. Hodes was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

NIA Directors

Date of Birth
In Office From
Norman Kretchmer (Acting)   October 1974 July 1975
Richard C. Greulich (Acting)   July 1975 April 1976
Robert N. Butler Jan. 21, 1927 May 1, 1976 July 1982
Robert L. Ringler (Acting) Mar. 27, 1922 July 16, 1982 June 30, 1983
T. Franklin Williams Nov. 26, 1921 July 1, 1983 July 31, 1991
Gene D. Cohen (Acting) Sept. 28, 1949 July 1, 1991 May 31, 1993
Richard J. Hodes Dec. 31, 1943 June 1, 1993  

Research Programs
Intramural | Extramural

Intramural Research

NIA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) comprises ten scientific laboratories and a research program that include the scientific disciplines of biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, structural biology, genetics, behavioral sciences, epidemiology, statistics, and clinical research and the medical disciplines of neurobiology, immunology, endocrinology, cardiology, rheumatology, hematology, oncology, and gerontology. Medical problems associated with aging are pursued in-depth using the tools of modern laboratory and clinical research. The central focus of 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 any change becomes pathologic. Thus, not only are the common age-related diseases under study (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, osteoarthritis, diabetes, cancer), but the determinants of healthy aging are also being defined.

Most IRP research is conducted at the Gerontology Research Center in Baltimore, Maryland. The section of Brain Physiology and Metabolism and the Laboratory of Neurogenetics is located in the Clinical Center on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, and the Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography & Biometry is located in the Gateway Building in Bethesda.

The Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology (LCMB) includes scientists formerly in the Laboratory of Biological Chemistry (LBC). The name was changed to better reflect the general interests of the group and the nature of ongoing studies. The interests of the LCMB cover a wide range of topics devoted to understanding biochemical and molecular events contributing to basic mechanisms of aging, as well as the development of age-related disabilities and diseases. The LBC has seven research programs. A common goal of these programs is the elucidation of critical events associated with various age-related deficits that could serve as targets for therapeutic strategies aimed at preventing or delaying the onset of disabilities and disease processes. The LBC is currently comprised of six independent research programs headed by either a tenure-track scientist or senior investigator. These programs include the Cell Stress and Aging Section, the T Lymphocyte Signaling Unit, the Stress Signaling Unit, the Cell Cycle Control Unit, the Cancer Molecular Genetics Unit, DNA Repair Unit, and the Molecular Neurobiology Unit. Major areas of emphasis common to the individual programs include: 1) the elucidation of signal transduction processes and genes involved in regulating cellular responses to environmental signals such as growth factors, cytokines, and stress stimuli; 2) the determination of mechanisms contributing to the maintenance of cellular homeostasis and cell cycle control; 3) the contribution of dysregulated gene expression or loss of critical gene functions to the development of cancer; and 4) the role of DNA damage and repair in age and age-related disease. These processes have direct relevance to our understanding of critical events associated with various age-related deficits and/or development of age-related diseases including cancer and Alzheimer's disease. The ultimate goal of the programs is to uncover knowledge that can be applied to prevent or delay the onset of age-related disabilities and disease processes, and/or provide new strategies for their treatment. While the individual research programs within the LBC generally function as independent groups, they are highly interactive, conduct biweekly joint meetings, and engage in collaborative projects. Combined, the programs within the LBC provide extensive and broad expertise in the areas of biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology and genetics. Specialized expertise in a variety of approaches used to analyze or manipulate gene expression is also available within the LBC. The LBC is equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation and an extensive computer network.

The Laboratory of Cardiovascular Sciences (LCS), established in 1985, is organized into three sections: Cardiac Function, Membrane Biology, and Behavioral Hypertension. The overall goals of the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Sciences are 1) to identify age-associated changes that occur within the cardiovascular system and to determine the mechanisms for these changes; 2) to study myocardial structure and function and to determine how age interacts with chronic disease states to alter function; 3) to study basic mechanisms in excitation-contraction coupling and how these are modulated by surface receptor signaling pathways in cardiac muscle; 4) to determine the chemical nature and sequence of intermediate reactions controlling the movement of ions through ionic channels and pumps present in myocardium, and how these are affected by aging and disease; 5) to determine mechanisms that govern behavioral aspects of hypertension; 6) to determine mechanisms of normal and abnormal function of vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells; and 7) to establish the potentials and limitations of new therapeutic approaches such as gene transfer techniques. In meeting these objectives, studies are performed in human volunteers, intact animals, isolated heart and vascular tissues, isolated cardiac and vascular cells, and subcellular organelles. In the LCS environment, discoveries are integrated within and among individual research areas, and many projects become multi-faceted, spanning the range from humans to molecules.

The Laboratory of Clinical Investigation (LCI) conducts research on age changes and the mechanisms underlying these changes in both humans and laboratory animals. Much of the clinical work focuses on conduct of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) and HANDLS studies, but additional clinical research protocols are also ongoing. The goals of the LCI are 1) to identify, explore, and conduct translational research on new therapeutic targets that may be particularly promising in the aging cancer patient (Hematology/Oncology Section); 2) to study mechanisms of insulin signaling and insulin action and to study pancreatic islet cell differentiation which will allow identification and study of potential new therapies for type II diabetes mellitus (Diabetes Section); 3) to study the role of growth and reproductive hormone augmentation in the maintenance of strength and function in the aging individual (Endocrine Section); 4) to study the applicability of current recommendations for definitions of obesity using body mass index and waist circumference to define cardiovascular and other risk in the aged individual (Metabolism Section); 5) to explore mechanisms of calcium channel calcium gating in the L-type calcium channel, to define the effects of age and disease on the expression of splice variants and function of this channel, and to define the role of polymorphisms of vascular effectors such as endothelial nitric oxide synthase in age and ethnic differences in peripheral vascular function (Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology Section); and 6) in the context of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging and HANDLS to study physiological, pathological, and behavioral measures such as body composition, muscle strength and function, cardiovascular risk, glucose tolerance, osteoporosis, prostate and breast cancer, cognitive function, and emotion over time. HANDLS specifically addresses minority health disparities and the role of socioeconomic status of health and aging (Longitudinal Studies Section). The general approaches are those of linking laboratory investigation to clinical research, both to allow insight into the pertinence of laboratory findings to aging human health and disease, and to permit in depth laboratory study of clinical observations. The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Unit's major research includes imaging studies of connective tissue biophysics (whole cartilage, chondrocytes in culture, and in vivo cartilage imaging), spectroscopic studies of muscle metabolism under a variety of pharmacologic and physiologic conditions, and methodology development in imaging and spectroscopy. Instrumentation consists of a double-resonance Bruker ABX 1.9T/31 cm Biospec with shielded gradients, and a triple-resonance, wide-bore Bruker DMX 400 with microimaging and solids capability.

The Laboratory of Genetics (LG) was established in 1997. It is comprised of five units, with a Human Genetics Unit, a Transcription Remodeling and Regulation Unit, a Gene Recovery and Analysis Unit, and the Developmental Genomics Section. The 5th unit, Human Genetics and Integrative Medicine was added in 2001. The interests of the laboratory are based on the view that aging has genetic determinants as an integrated part of human development, with a profound dependence on the interplay of synthetic and degradative processes that are initiated in utero. Major studies include: 1) transitions between immortal and mortal cells, such as the transition of immortal embryonic stem cells to mortal differentiating cells that is a fundamental feature of the initiation of aging in metazoans; 2) cohorts of genes involved in the development of selected "nonrenewable" systems. To understand and ultimately try to compensate for loss of cells and tissues during aging, the examples of skin appendage and pronephroskidney development are being studied; and 3) genes involved in embryonic events that prefigure aging-related phenomena. This includes studies of overgrowth syndromes, in which the set-point of size of tissues and organs is determined in fetal life, and studies of premature ovarian failure, in which the aging phenomenon of early menopause is determined by an increased rate of follicular atresia during fetal life. 4) Genes involved in embryonic events that prefigure aging-related phenomena. For example, the Human Genetics Unit is involved in studies of overgrowth syndromes, in which the set point of size of tissues and organs is determined in fetal life; and in studies of premature ovarian failure, in which the aging phenomenon of early menopause is determined by an increased rate of follicular atresia during fetal life. 5) The genetics of aging-related complex conditions is being approached by interactive studies of the "founder" population in Sardinia. Initial phenotypes to be studied along with epidemiological factors include arterial stiffness, selected psychiatric/psychological traits. For this project investigators from Cardiovascular Sciences (Edward Lakatta and Angelo Scuteri), Personality and Cognition (Paul Costa and Alan Zonderman), and EDB (Tamara Harris and Richard Havlik) are working with Antonio Cao and Giuseppe Pilia, human geneticists at the University of Cagliari, Sardinia. 6) HGIM focuses on characteristics of heritable disorders of connective tissue including Ellis-van Creveld Syndrome & Cartilage, Hair Hypoplasia Syndrome.

The laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art resources for genomic approaches in the Gene Recovery and Analysis Unit, including large-insert clones and recovery methods, high throughput sequencing, nuclear fractionation and chromatin analysis techniques, and the potential to make and analyze high-quality cDNA libraries from very few cells from subregions of embryos. It also benefits from collaborative efforts with other groups and resource providers both within the NIA and at a number of extramural sites in the United States and abroad.

The Laboratory of Immunology (LI) conducts studies to provide a greater understanding of the biological, biochemical, and molecular alterations in immune functions that occur within individuals during both normal and pathology-associated aging processes. The Laboratory includes the Clinical Immunology Section, the Lymphocyte Differentiation Unit, the Lymphocyte Cell Biology Unit, and the B-Cell Development Section. The common goal of these research programs is the elucidation of the age-related deficits in immune function that could be potentially targeted by various therapeutic strategies. In collaboration with investigators at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), studies in the Clinical Immunology Section suggest that the importance of both Th1 and Th2 subsets in AIDS pathogenesis transcends clonal differences in their ability to support HIV replication. Studies also suggest that T-cells derived from older individuals are more susceptible to T-cell trophic HIV-1 infections than are lymphocytes derived from younger donors. Other studies in this Section lead researchers to believe that the ability of inflammatory cytokines such as chemokines to induce neuronal cell apoptosis may have significant implications in Alzheimer's disease and AIDS and age-related dementia. Because chemokines can mediate neuronal cell apoptosis, there is a potential role for chemokines in initiation and effector phases of neurodegenerative disease states. The research interests of the Lymphocyte Differentiation Unit are focused on two areas: 1) the molecular and cellular mechanisms of lymphocyte differentiation and immunological memory, and 2) the molecular basis of learning and memory formation. Another area of interest is the mechanisms of learning and memory formation and aging effects on this process. The rat stone maze is used as a model in concert with techniques to analyze gene expression dynamics in hippocampus during maze learning in rats. The Lymphocyte Cell Biology Unit has three major interests: Bcl-2 function in the prevention of apoptosis from chemotherapy agents, the control factors in the regulation of growth fraction in tumor cells, and the mechanisms of tumor induced immunosuppression. The B-Cell Development Unit studies B-cell development in transgenic, knock-in and knockout mice expressing rearranged genes which encode for the heavy (H) and Light (L) chains of antibodies having specificity for phosphocholine (PC). In the past several years, work has been concentrated in three distinct areas, vaccine development, immunoglobulin transgenic mice as models for vaccine development, and the autoreactive nature of PC-specific B cells.

The Laboratory of Molecular Gerontology (LMG) is investigating this molecular basis for aging and age-dependent diseases, notably cancer. Studies focus on DNA-related mechanisms such as DNA repair, replication and transcription, and genomic instability. The increased occurrence of DNA damage that has been observed with increasing age in many biological systems may be due to changes in DNA repair. The Laboratory has a special interest in study of the DNA repair processes in individual genes. Studies are being conducted to investigate the molecular mechanisms involved in DNA repair and in genomic instability in normal, senescent, and cancer cells. The goal of the LMG is thus to understand the underlying mechanisms involved in DNA damage formation and its processing as well as the changes that take place with aging and that make aging cells susceptible to cancer.

A major goal of research in the Laboratory of Neurosciences (LNS) is to understand, at the molecular and cellular levels, the mechanisms responsible for age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, and stroke. Knowledge gained in such basic research is then being used in preclinical studies to develop approaches (diet, lifestyle, drugs and cell therapy) for preventing and treating these disorders. LNS is currently comprised of four sections which include: the Cellular and Molecular Neurosciences Section, the Neurochemistry and Behavior Section, the Diet and Molecular Physiology Section, and the Medicinal Chemistry Section. Recently units on Stem Cell Biology, Invertebrate Molecular Genetics and Synaptic Plasticity were added as these are critical areas of scientific investigation of age-related neurodegeneration.

The fundamental scientific paradigm guiding research in the Laboratory of Personality and Cognition (LPC) is the analysis of individual differences. Few phenomena are more basic than the fact that human beings differ - in health, in rates of aging, in cognitive ability, in personality, in happiness, and in life satisfaction. The LPC conducts basic and clinical research on individual differences in cognitive and personality processes and traits. The laboratory investigates the influence of age on these variables and their reciprocal influence on health, well-being, and adaptation. It employs longitudinal, experimental, and epidemiological methods in the analysis of psychological and psychosocial issues of aging, including health and illness, predictors of intellectual competence and decline, models of adult personality, and correlates of disease risk factors. The Personality, Stress, and Coping Section has conducted systematic basic research in personality guided by the Five Factor Model (FFM) which asserts that personality traits can be understood as aspects of five factors: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. The FFM is now the prevailing conception of personality in psychological research. The unit on Emotions and Psychophysiology conducts research on the role of emotions and psychophysiology processes related to psychological adaptation and health. The Cognition Section conducts studies that attempt to distinguish pathological from healthy, age-related cognitive changes in a broad range of cognitive tasks, including short-term and long-term memory, visual/spatial rotation, attention, and decision tasks. Performance of Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA) participants on the Benton Visual Retention Test has led to the test's identification as a potential early marker for Alzheimer's disease. That finding is being followed up using neuroimaging techniques. Work is ongoing to determine whether estrogen provides a protective effect on memory.

The Laboratory of Neurogenetics has the potential to develop an understanding of the major neurodegenerative diseases using genetic approaches. This laboratory will collect families with familial Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other related conditions and try to identify the genetic lesions which cause the disease. Once they have identified the genetic lesions, they will try and develop an understanding of the disease process by looking at the function of the normal protein and determining how the function of the mutant protein is different, both in cells and in transgenic mice. They have been extremely successful, and have identified mutations which lead to Alzheimer's disease and Pick's disease. This laboratory will be working to identify two genes they have found that contribute to Parkinson's disease, as well as genetic risk factor loci for late-onset Alzheimer's disease.

The Molecular Dynamics Section focuses on the interplay between structure and dynamics and how these influence biological function. The section is presently involved in studying the structural and dynamic factors in hemoglobin, which regulate the binding of oxygen as well as autoxidation with its associated release of superoxide. The finding that autoxidation of hemoglobin is appreciably enhanced at reduced oxygen pressures, has led to the proposal of a novel method for producing oxyradicals under hypoxic conditions. Studies are being performed on erythrocytes, interaction of erythrocytes with other tissues and with whole animals to determine to what extent this mechanism contributes to the pathophysiology of aging.

The Brain Physiology and Metabolism Section (BPMS) studies brain function, metabolism, and structure with regard to aging and disease, including Alzheimer's disease. Investigators are currently working to improve the sensitivity and specificity of diagnostic tools including Positron Emission Tomography (PET), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), structural magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, as well as neuropsychological and behavioral assessment.

The Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry (LEDB) conducts research on aging and age-associated diseases and conditions using population-based epidemiologic and biometric methods. Laboratory staff work collaboratively both within and among four sections: the Epidemiology and Demography Section, the Neuroepidemiology Section, the Geriatric Epidemiology Section, and the Biometry Section and with other NIA and outside investigators. The mission of LEDB is to elucidate the etiology of diseases of old age by combining epidemiologic data with information from other disciplines; evaluate the consistency of epidemiologic data with etiologic hypotheses developed either clinically or experimentally; and to provide the basis for developing and evaluating preventive procedures and public health practices. These general principles have guided a research agenda that emphasizes three important and interrelated areas: Physical Function and Disability, Cognitive Function and Dementia, and Age-associated Diseases and Conditions - including successful or effective aging. In each area, studies are influenced by results of analytic efforts of current LEDB-sponsored studies and by opportunities created by advances in biology. The Epidemiology and Demography Section plans and conducts studies on chronic diseases, functional status and disability in the older population. The Neuroepidemiology Section conducts interdisciplinary research on the association of genetic, molecular, and behavioral factors in relation to brain disease in old age. The Geriatric Epidemiology Section carries out interdisciplinary studies of the association of molecular and genetic risk factors with health outcomes in old age, including discrete diseases, disability and mortality. The Biometry Section conducts research in the mathematical, statistical and numerical aspects of aging and health. This section provides statistical consulting, computing, graphics, and data management services to the other units within LEDB. Senior LEDB staff consult with other components within the IRP, NIA, other NIH Institutes, other Government agencies, and the private sector. LEDB research interests use data from the Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly (EPESE), the Women's Health and Aging Study (WHAS), the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study (HAAS), Health and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study; Veterans' Study of Memory in Aging (VSMA); the MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging, and other epidemiologic studies.

Extramural Research

Office of Extramural Affairs
Miriam F. Kelty, Ph.D.

The Office of Extramural Affairs (OEA) manages NIA's extramural program activities. It often is the first point of contact for applicants requesting information on how to apply for federal support or who wish to know if their research ideas may be of interest to NIA. The OEA coordinates NIA's extramural programs and ensures that policies and procedures are implemented in a uniform and fair way. The Office has responsibility for oversight of grants and contract administration, scientific review, and committee management functions. The Office serves as primary liaison for NIA with the NIH Office of Extramural Research, and with other institutes that share research interests. It also has primary responsibility for NIA's extramural training programs, career development programs, small business initiatives, and other special programs. The Office handles appeals, and scientific integrity and other ethical issues involved in the conduct of research. The OEA organizes meetings of the National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA) and meetings of related groups. OEA has central responsibility for research training and career development activities at the institute, including policies related to different mechanisms, eligibility, and initiatives to increase the number of underrepresented students and researchers trained in aging research.

The Scientific Review Office (SRO) of the OEA is responsible for initial peer review of specific research applications assigned to the NIA. These include applications for grants to Centers, for program project initiatives, and for training and career development. Members of NIA's four review panels that correspond to the Institute's program areas and members of the Institute's special emphasis panels include non-government scientists who are themselves grantees and who are expert in the scientific areas of the applications they review.

While the SRO interacts with applicants prior to the award of grants, the Grants and Contracts Management Office (GCMO) works with scientists and institutional research administrators to issue, manage, and close awards when the research is completed. GCMO staff members provide guidance on administrative and fiscal policies and practices for the investigator and for the institutional research administrators. For example, they address questions about allowable costs and about major changes in staff or content of the research project. The GCMO has legal responsibility for the fiscal management of the Institute's extramural grants and contracts.

External Scientific Review

In support of research, research training, and career development related to aging, the NIA awards grants to universities, hospitals, and research organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad. Approximately 80 percent of the funds appropriated to the NIA are disbursed through these extramural awards. Competition for this funding is very high; for example, over the past ten years, NIA was able to fund fewer than one in three of the research project grant applications it received. To ensure that the research funded is of the highest quality and serves the health needs of the nation, peer review committees comprised of external scientific experts are brought together to review proposed and ongoing research.

Extramural Grant Review

Extramural research investigators trigger the grant review process by submitting grant applications to the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR). Initial review of applications may be assigned to a Center review group or to NIA's initial review committee which reviews program project, center, research career, small, and institutional training grant applications, as well as applications submitted in response to RFAs issued by the NIA.

Applications clearly within NIA's mandate are forwarded to NIA for funding consideration. Whether the applications are reviewed at the Center for Scientific Review or at the NIA, committees of experts, including NIH grantees, assess the quality and originality of the proposed science. Reviewers also assess applications for the qualifications of the investigators, quality of the proposed facilities, treatment of animal models, if relevant, and, for research involving humans, the proposed plans for recruiting women and minorities to the studies. The judgment of the group on these parameters is summarized in a report (summary statement) and overall rating (priority score) of the application. These reports are provided to the applicants and to NIA officials. Among the applications assigned to the NIA, approximately the top half, as judged by initial review, are given a second level of review by the National Advisory Council on Aging.

National Advisory Council on Aging

Congress created the National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA) to provide advice on programmatic and policy matters; specifically:

"to advise, consult with, and make recommendations to the Secretary, DHHS, the Assistant Secretary for Health; the Director, NIH; and the Director, NIA; on matters relating to the conduct and support of biomedical, social, and behavioral research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the aging process and the diseases and other special problems and needs of the aged."

Grant applications over $50,000 must receive Council approval to be eligible for funding. In its deliberations, the NACA reviews summary statements to evaluate the fairness and appropriateness of the initial review of grant applications, and considers the scientific and public importance of the proposed work. In cases in which the applicant or NIA staff has concerns about the initial review of the application (special actions), NACA members can evaluate these concerns.

Council members also serve as a conduit for insights into the concerns and opinions of the research community, and assist in keeping the scientific community, Congress, and the public knowledgeable about the activities of the NIA.

The NACA meets three times each year, typically for a period of two days to review applications for grants and cooperative agreements for research and training. The group recommends funding of research applications that show significant promise of a) improving the quality of life and health care for the aged; or b) making valuable contributions to our scientific knowledge of the aging process.

The NACA consists of 18 members appointed by the DHHS Secretary and five non-voting ex officio members. Of the 18 appointed members, 12 are leading representatives of the health and scientific disciplines and are leaders in the fields of public health and the behavioral or social sciences relevant to the activities of the NIA, particularly with respect to biological and medical sciences relating to aging and public health. Six of the members are leaders from the general public in the fields of public policy, law, health policy, economics, and management. Members are invited to serve for overlapping four-year terms.

Once the Council provides its recommendations, the NIA Director may approve payment of applications that have been favorably reviewed and for which sufficient funds are available. Primary weight is given to the scientific quality of the application as judged by initial peer review. Consideration is also given to the proposed research's relevance to NIA priorities and to the timeliness of the research.

Biology of Aging Program

The program supports biomedical studies through various NIH grant mechanisms and contracts. The program plans, implements, and supports fundamental molecular, cellular and genetic research on the mechanisms of aging. It also supports resource facilities that provide aged animals and cell cultures for use in aging research.

Animal Models. The objective of the Animal Models Program is to identify and develop new animal models, both mammalian and lower organism, for use in aging research. This includes research on rats, mice, birds, fish, rabbits, non-human primates, insects, nematodes and yeast. Mutant and genetically engineered rodent models of both normal aging and specific age-related pathologies are of particular interest.

Cardiovascular Biology. The objectives of the Cardiovascular Biology Program are to support basic research on age-related changes in cardiovascular function, e.g. gene expression, and on factors affecting cell death in heart tissue

Cell Structure and Function Program. The objectives of the Cell Structure and Function Program are to support research on the molecular basis of age-related changes in signal transduction mechanisms; microenvironment - ECM; replicative senescence/apoptosis/cancer; and membranes and membrane receptors.

Endocrinology Program. Hormones secreted by the endocrine system play major roles in informing various organs of the status of other organ systems and in coordinating the functioning of various organ systems. As humans and various animal models age, average serum levels of some of these hormones decline while others rise, changing the overall hormonal milieu of the organism. Also, the sensitivity of some intracellular signaling pathways responsive to endocrine factors change with age, altering tissue response to hormonal signals. The purpose of the endocrinology of aging program is to support basic molecular and cellular research into the causes and effects of age-related changes in the endocrine system of humans and various animal models. Areas of investigation in this program include age-related changes in hormone production, metabolism, and action; Type II diabetes; reproductive aging: biology of menopause and animal models of menopause; age-related changes in control of prostate growth; and endocrine aspects of age-dependent tumors.

Genetics Program. The objectives of the Genetics Program are to support research on identification and characterization of longevity assurance genes (LAGs) and senescence assurance genes (SAGs); genome stability; telomere biology; genomics; mouse mutagenesis; single nucleotide polymorphisms/genetic epidemiology; and Werner's syndrome.

Immunology Program. Changes in the immune system of older people may contribute to the increased incidence of infection and cancer in the elderly. Research directed towards understanding the age-related regulation of immune function in health and disease is supported by BAP. Areas of investigation in this program include regulation of lymphocyte proliferation; regulation of immune specificity; response of immune system to biochemical stimuli; autoimmune disease and other immunopathology; endocrine control of immune function; molecular basis of the age-related decline in immune function; and interventions to retard and/or correct age-related decline in immune function.

Metabolic Regulation. Areas of investigation in the Metabolic Regulation Program include nutrition and metabolism; age-related changes in mitochondrial function/mitochondrial dysfunction; mechanism of life span extension by caloric restriction; and generation of free radicals and oxidative stress.

Musculoskeletal Biology. The age-related change of function of various physiologic systems often negatively impacts the health of the elderly. The purpose of this program is to support high quality basic molecular and cellular research to understand the causes and effects of these changes, thereby encouraging the development of preventative and interventional strategies to extend the health span of the elderly. Areas of investigation in this program include age-related changes in osteoblast and osteoclast function and bone matrix; age-related changes in muscle structure and function; age-related changes in cartilage, connective tissue and skin; age-related changes in wound healing; molecular mechanisms of the above age-related changes; and molecular basis of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Other NIA resources managed by this office include colonies of rhesus macaque monkeys, an Aged Cell Bank, and a stock center for hematode mutant strains.

The Biology of Aging Program also includes the Office of Biological Resources and Resource Development. Because most investigators have neither the facilities nor the resources needed to develop and maintain colonies of aged animals in a barrier facility, the NIA provides support for both rat and mouse colonies for use by the scientific community. The cost of these animals is partially subsidized by the NIA through contracts.

Geriatrics Program

The program supports research and research training on the pathophysiology, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of age-related diseases, degenerative conditions, and disabilities. A key focus is the identification of factors that slow the progression of adverse aging changes, thereby delaying or preventing age-related diseases and disabilities, and promoting healthy aging. A second important theme is the elucidation of previously unappreciated pathologies that contribute to morbidity in late life ("new" diseases of old age) and ways they might be prevented or ameliorated. A third major emphasis is on the translation of advances from biomedical aging research into new clinical applications, and testing them in controlled clinical trials.

The Endocrine and Osteoporosis Group supports research in the following two areas of study:

Endocrinology. This program area develops and supports research on age-related changes in endocrine status and function. Areas of emphasis include the physiologic processes leading to, and /or which may be sequelae of, 1) menopause in women and 2) age-related alterations in the hypothalamo-pituitary-testicular axis in men and the impact of these changes on other physiologic systems. Sherry Sherman, Ph.D.

Osteoporosis. This program area develops and supports basic and clinical research to identify age-associated processes that contribute to bone loss and osteoporosis; markers and risk factors that are related to decreases in bone mass, bone competence, and the predisposition to fractures; and strategies based on modifying or reversing these processes. Research on osteoporosis in advanced age is emphasized. Sherry Sherman, Ph.D.

Cardiovascular/Pulmonary/Renal Section

This program area develops and supports a broad-based, clinically related, extramural research portfolio on age-related changes in the cardiovascular, pulmonary, and renal systems, including the importance of these changes in age-related diseases in mature and older persons. An important focus is on age-related cardiovascular diseases and syndromes, and their prevention. Examples of research include: isolated systolic hypertension (including the importance of preventing the rise of blood pressure with age), the acute coronary syndrome, diastolic heart failure, age-related arterial wall remodeling, changes in autonomic nervous system activity, atrial fibrillation, primary prevention of atherosclerosis, and studies on age-related changes in the pulmonary and renal systems, including their impact on the aging cardiovascular system. Andre Premen, Ph.D.

Clinical Trials Section

This program area supports clinical trials of interventions to prevent and treat age-related diseases, disabilities, and risk factors. Current and future areas of emphasis include exercise interventions against physical frailty, pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions against osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases, and effects of trophic factors such as growth hormone on degenerative conditions of aging. Joanna Badinelli, M.Ed.

Geriatrics Research and Training Section

This program area supports clinical research on disorders that are concentrated predominately among older people or that are associated with increased morbidity and mortality in the elderly. In addition to these specific clinical problems, the program addresses the lack of research on clinical problems in nursing homes and other sites of long-term care for the elderly. Another mission is to attract new investigators to the field of aging and to further the development of active investigators in clinical medicine and biomedical research.

This program area also supports the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers (OAICs). The OAICs conduct basic and clinical research to enhance the ability of older persons to maintain their independence. These centers provide support for research to develop and test interventions to prevent or delay disorders and diseases associated with aging. They also train individuals in research in these areas. Stanley Slater, M.D.

Infectious Diseases Section

This program area develops and supports research on the relationship of physiologic changes associated with age or chronic disease that increase susceptibility to infections. Priorities also include new strategies to evaluate vaccine efficacy in the elderly, potential preventative techniques against infections in the elderly, and age-related changes on the effects of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, infection and other "stresses" on granulopoiesis and lymphopoiesis, and on circulating levels of amyloid proteins and effects of amyloid deposition. Stanley Slater, M.D.

Nutrition/Gastroenterology/Metabolism Section

This program area develops and supports basic and clinical research on effects of nutritional factors throughout the life span; longevity and age-associated morbidity; effects of aging on nutrient digestion, absorption, and utilization; and the contribution of nutritional status to the etiology and pathogenesis of diseases prevalent in the elderly. In recent years, this program area has specifically focused on clinical studies of the metabolic effects of caloric restriction (CR). Chronic caloric restriction in rodents and other laboratory animals has long been known to extend life span markedly and delay the onset of numerous age-related diseases common in humans. Over the last two decades, it has also been shown to delay a wide variety of aging changes, ranging from the organ to the molecular level. This phenomenon may have important implications for development of new human nutritional, endocrine, or pharmacologic disease-prevention interventions that mimic the effects of CR in experimental animals. Recently NIA, in collaboration with NIDDK, convened an advisory group composed of basic and clinical researchers in aging, nutrition, metabolism, endocrinology, epidemiology, genetics, and other fields to consider possibilities for research on such possible interventions. The research recommendations from the Advisory Group meeting were published in a Special Issue of the Journals of Gerontology, "Caloric Restriction's Effects on Aging: Opportunities for Research on Human Implications." Based on the research recommendations from the Advisory Group, the Geriatrics Program issued an RFA, "Exploratory Studies of Sustained Caloric Restriction in Non-Obese Persons: Physiologic Effects and Comparisons/Interactions with Physical Activity." The focus of this RFA was on exploratory controlled human intervention studies on the effects of CR interventions on physiology, body composition, and risk factors for age-related pathologies in non-obese persons, as well as on studies of similarities, differences and/or potential interactions between the effects of CR and of physical activity (PA) on these outcomes. Chhanda Dutta, Ph.D.

Cancer Section

This section develops and supports research on the aging/cancer interface. Specific focus is on: age-related changes that contribute to increased cancer incidence and mortality in older persons; time, and its importance to development of cancer during a person's life span; aggressive tumor behavior in the context of the aged patient; effects of age and aging on anti-tumor drugs; and the impact of current or previous age-related illnesses, disabilities, and degenerative conditions (i.e., comorbidity) on the older cancer patient's treatment and survival. The development of multiple primary tumors is of major interest, as is research on tumors that primarily affect older persons (e.g., breast, prostate, colon, lung, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma). Rosemary Yancik, Ph.D.

Genetic Epidemiology and Translational Research Section

This program area develops and supports basic and clinical research on the effects of genetic factors and gene-environmental interactions on rates of age-related physiologic and pathologic changes, differences in age of onset of diseases and disabilities, and broader outcomes not encompassed by disease diagnoses, such as exceptional longevity, in human populations. This program area also supports research on the incorporation of bioengineering, bioinformatics, and biotechnology into clinical studies. Winifred Rossi, M.A.

Musculoskeletal Section

This program area develops and supports basic and clinical research on age-related changes in function of bone, muscle, and cartilage. The program supports research on geriatric rehabilitation, risk factors, prevention and treatment of falls, gait disorders and hip fractures in the elderly, and osteoarthritis. Chhanda Dutta, Ph.D.

Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program

This program fosters and supports extramural and collaborative research and training to further the understanding of neural and behavioral processes associated with the aging brain. Research on dementias of old age - in particular Alzheimer's disease - is one of the highest program priorities.

Neurobiology of Aging. The Neurobiology of Aging Branch fosters research on age-related cellular, molecular, and behavioral changes in the structure or function of the nervous system. Studies of neuroimmunology, neurovirology, neuroendocrinology, neuropharmacology, sensory and motor processes, sleep, biorhythmicity, cell death and neural plasticity are of particular interest.

The Fundamental Neuroscience Section supports research at cellular, molecular, and behavioral levels that explore age-related structural and functional changes in brain.

The Integrative Neurobiology Section supports research on neural mechanisms underlying age-related changes in endocrine functions; neurodegenerative diseases of aging associated with infectious agents; and central nervous system, neuroendocrine system, and immune system interactions in aging.

The Sleep and Biological Rhythms Section focuses on studies of epidemiology, etiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sleep disorders of older people, age-related mechanisms underlying sleep-wakefulness cycles and behavioral sequelae in the aged, and on biorhythmicity in the aging nervous system.

The Sensory Processes Section focuses on mechanisms of normal aging and disease-related alterations in visual, auditory, somatosensory, vestibular, and chemosensory functions, and pain from the level of the gene to the whole organism as well as epidemiological studies of populations.

The Motor Function Section supports research on proprioception, postural control, sensory motor integration, vestibular, and movement disorders in aging, including Parkinson's disease.

Dementias of Aging. The Dementias Branch supports studies of etiology, pathophysiology, epidemiology, clinical course/natural history, diagnosis and functional assessment, drug design, drug development and trials, and behavioral management and intervention in the dementias of later life. It also supports the Alzheimer's Disease Centers Program.

The Basic Research Section supports research on Alzheimer's disease and other age-related neurodegenerative disorders, including identification of genetic loci associated with inherited forms of these diseases and biochemical and molecular genetic analysis of the components of amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and other abnormal structures found in the brains of Alzheimer's disease victims.

The Population Studies Section supports research in the epidemiology of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer's disease including prevalence, incidence, and risk and protective factors and on models for large-area registries for Alzheimer's disease.

The Clinical Studies Section supports research on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients with cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease. Research on diagnosis is aimed at the development and evaluation of reliable and valid multidimensional procedures and instruments for diagnosis, progression, and response to treatment.

Research in the treatment and management of Alzheimer's seeks to develop the knowledge required to interrupt the course of the disorder, to manage its behavioral manifestations, and to ultimately prevent it. Treatment approaches include clinical trials of pharmacologic agents and studies of behavioral and environmental interventions. Preclinical drug discovery, development, and animal testing studies are important aspects.

The Research Centers Section supports Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers and Alzheimer's Disease Center Core programs, which provide a multifaceted approach to research on Alzheimer's disease, including clinical and other core services, neuropathological evaluation, basic and clinical research, professional and public information, and educational activities. It also supports the National Alzheimer's Coordinating Center.

Neuropsychology of Aging. The Neuropsychology of Aging Branch emphasizes research, including the use of animal models, on the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying age-related changes in basic cognitive processes, including learning, memory, attention, and language. Studies of age-related changes in emotion also are supported. The use of neural modeling, and computational neuroscience approaches, and the integration of these approaches, to understanding these structural and dynamic brain changes and adaptations is encouraged.

Behavioral and Social Research Program

This program supports basic social and behavioral research on the aging process and the problems and needs of older people. It focuses on understanding how psychological and social aging interact with biological aging processes; how older people relate to social institutions (e.g., the family, health care systems); and the antecedents and consequences of the dramatic changes in age composition of the population.

The goal of the program is to produce a scientific knowledge base which - by informing professional practice, public policy, and everyday life - can maximize people's health, effective functioning, independence, and well-being in their middle and later years. In order to explain the wide diversity among older people, it encourages comparisons between males and females; persons with differing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic background; and inhabitants of countries that vary in styles and standards of living.

Special attention is given to studies of the oldest old (those age 85 and over), one of the fastest growing segments of the population. Of special concern is the care of Alzheimer's disease patients and their families. Emphasis is also placed on many kinds of interventions that can prevent, postpone, or reverse such decrements of old age as chronic ill health, sense of incompetence, memory loss, functional disability, or withdrawal from active participation in social and economic roles.

Adult psychological development supports research concerned with behavioral and social mechanisms and processes influencing cognitive and intellectual functioning, personality, attitudes, and interpersonal relationships over the adult life course. Emphasis is placed on research relevant to maintaining and improving well-being, independence, and effective functioning. Research is needed for seeking out the conditions under which age-related individual changes occur or do not occur, and for supplying information to use in the design of roles and environments that can utilize the special strengths of middle-age and older people and that can maintain and enhance their functioning. The two sections included are: cognitive functioning and aging and personality and social psychological aging.

Social science research on aging aims to understand the social and environmental conditions influencing health, well-being, and functioning of people in their middle and later years. Its three sections focus respectively on dynamic processes linking health, behavior, and aging and on those linking social structures with behaviors, attitudes, health, and status of older people. The sections are concerned with social and behavioral factors in health and functioning and with assessment and testing of planned and natural interventions for health promotion/disease prevention.

Special attention is given to research on aging and health care, especially such issues in long-term care as: family structures and relationships affecting provision of home care, and interventions to prevent the need for long-term care (e.g., injury prevention and control). Particular emphasis is placed on studies of long-term care of Alzheimer's disease patients and their families in line with the NIA initiative. This program also encompasses social science research on two other institute-wide initiatives: gender, health, and longevity, and minority health. The three sections included are: behavioral geriatrics research, health care organizations, and older people in society.

Demography and population epidemiology (DPE) supports research and training on the dynamics and consequences of population aging, and aims to describe and understand the changing elderly population in terms of its social, demographic, economic, health, and functional characteristics, and the impact of these changes on society as a whole.

DPE also coordinates policy on aging-related statistical data within the NIA and across other institutes at NIH as well as with other relevant Federal agencies. The Office on Demography of Aging is located in the DPE/BSR, the focal point for coordinating demographic and economic research within NIA. The demography office is also the center of activity for the Federal forum of aging-related statistics, a group which serves a similar function in coordinating research government-wide. DPE's three sections are: health and retirement economics, demography of aging, and population epidemiology.

NIA Appropriations – Grants and Direct Operations

Fiscal year
Total grants1
Direct operations
(Amounts in thousands of dollars)

1 Includes research grants and research manpower development awards. Excludes research contracts.
2 Comparable amount. Appropriations for aging are included within the NICHD appropriation for FY 1975.

This page was last reviewed on July 7, 2005 .

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