Institutes and Research Divisions
National Institute on Aging

Mission

In 1974 Congress authorized the establishment of the National Institute on Aging. 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."

NIA is the lead agency in Federal efforts on Alzheimer's disease, housing the Office of Alzheimer's Disease Research (OADR). OADR promotes and encourages the advancement of Alzheimer's disease research programs supported by NIA and NIH, other Federal and state agencies, and private organizations.

 

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.

January 8, 1975--The Implementation Plan for P.L. 93-296 was submitted to the assistant secretary for health.

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.

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.

September 6, 1988--Dr. Gene Cohen assumed the permanent position of NIA deputy director.

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

November 15, 1990--The GRTCs were expanded and renamed the Claude D. Pepper Independence Centers under P.L. 101-557.

Director's of NIA

NameDate of Birth Dates of Office
From
To
Norman Kretchmer (Actg).........................October 1974July 1975
Richard C. Greulich (Actg).........................July 1975April 1976
Robert N. Butler1927May 1, 19761982
Robert L. Ringler (Actg)Mar. 27, 1922July 26, 1982June 30, 1983
T. Franklin WilliamsNov. 26, 1921July 1, 1983July 31, 1991
Gene D. Cohen (Actg)Sept. 28, 1949July 1, 1991May 1993
Richard J. HodesDec. 31, 1943May 27, 1993.........................

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 in 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.

Prior to joining NIA, Dr. Hodes was senior investigator and chief of the immune regulation section at NCI's Experimental Immunology Branch.

He is program coordinator for the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Cancer Research Program and serves in editorial capacities at the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the Journal of Immunology, and Therapeutic Immunology. He received the PHS Commendation Medal in 1977 and the PHS Outstanding Service Medal in 1988.

 

Intramural Research

The bulk of the NIA intramural research program is conducted at the Gerontology Research Center in Baltimore, Md. TheLaboratory of Neurosciences operates basic and clinical research programs from the Clinical Center at NIH. Via the NIH medical staff fellow, staff fellowship, a cooperative geriatric medicine fellowship with Johns Hopkins, intramural research training awards, and visiting programs, scientists at various stages of their careers gain sophisticated gerontology experience at the center. Over 300 postdoctoral investigators have been trained at the GRC since 1940.

Longitudinal Studies Branch

Is responsible for the management and operation of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) and scientists in the branch conduct research using both historical and currently collected data. First, historical datasets in many areas are continuously developed to model group and individual patterns of aging. Second, new BLSA research is planned and implemented on the most promising findings. Examples include new research in prostate aging and disease, vision, hearing, strength, cerebrovascular aging, and age-associated changes in functional ability.

The BLSA is a primary and unique resource of the intramural program. Nearly 600 volunteer men, ranging in age from 20 to 96 years, come to the center every 2 years and undergo 2½ days of extensive clinical, biochemical, and psychological tests. A women's program, initiated in 1978, has over 550 participants, helping scientists make important comparisons of sex differences across the life span.

Recently a cohort of women 45 to 55 years of age has been added to allow analysis of the perimenopausal period. A minority cohort is being added for studies relevant to hypertension, prostate cancer, heart disease, and other factors affecting health and survival.

Laboratory of Clinical Physiology

Scientists conduct research emphasizing the physiological changes that occur throughout the entire adult life span. Studies include quantification of age changes, elucidation of mechanisms underlying these changes, and the relation between aging processes and specific disease states. There are specific programs to study endocrine and metabolic systems, especially growth and sex hormones, glucose and insulin homeostasis, bone and the immune system.

Laboratory of Behavioral Sciences

Applies behavior analysis methodology to investigate mechanisms mediating the development of selected disorders of aging and to facilitate their prevention and remediation. Studies in the behavioral medicine section are concerned with interactions of stress and salt intake in blood pressure regulation and the development of hypertension. The focus is on effects of hypercapnic breathing on mechanisms of cell sodium regulation. In addition, behavioral nursing research is concerned with prevention of falls and hip fracture, and with relationships between incontinence, urinary tract infection, and hypertension. Studies in the behavioral physiology section are concerned with the effects of low and high ambient temperature on plasma volume, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular measures, and with the diurnal variation in cardiovascular response to thermoregulatory behavior.

Laboratory of Personality and Cognition (LPC)

Conducts research on individual differences in psychosocial and intellectual functioning with aging and their influence on health and adaptation. LPC researchers are actively engaged in dispelling myths on aging, personality, and health, and have contributed new insights about the stresses faced by aging adults, the methods and strategies used by them to cope, and the effectiveness of their coping efforts. The LPC also conducts research on early markers of Alzheimer's disease as well as cognitive performance and aging, emphasizing the psychological mechanisms underlying age-related changes in memory, learning, and reasoning.

Researchers Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology

Conduct studies at the cellular and molecular levels to assess basic mechanisms of aging that affect physiologic function. Included are studies on signal transduction, the interaction of cells with synthetic macromolecules, structural biology, stress responses, gene expression, oxygen radicals and mechanisms of neurodegener-ation. Manipulations, such as diet, exercise, pharmacological/endocrinological and genetic interventions, are examined.

Laboratory of Biological Chemistry

Investigators conduct research in neurobiology in such areas as molecular neuropath-ology, mechanisms of cell death, neurotrophic factors, and molecular biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease. Other researchers focus on cell biology, including development of models to measure capacity of bone to regenerate, the study of aging cartilage and bone, mitochondrial defects, and the relation between cancer and aging.

Laboratory of Molecular Genetics (LMG)

Is investigating the molecular basis for aging and age-dependent diseases, notably cancer. Studies are focused on DNA- related mechanisms such as genomic instability, DNA repair, DNA replication and transcription. The increased levels of DNA damage that have been observed with aging may be due to changes in DNA repair. A special interest is in the fine structure of DNA repair and the DNA repair processes in individual genes. Molecular mechanisms are being investigated and changes in the mechanisms with aging are studied.

Laboratory of Cardiovascular Science

The overall goals of the are 1) to identify age-associated changes that occur within the cardiovascular system in humans and in animal models and to determine the mechanisms for these changes; 2) to study basic mechanisms of excitation-contraction coupling, of membrane transport and of energy-yielding oxidative pathways in cardiac muscle; 3) to determine mechanisms that govern normal and abnormal function of vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells; 4) to study myocardial and vascular structure and function, gene expression, and responses to pharmacologic and gene therapy in disease models; and 5) to determine how age interacts with chronically altered cardiac and vascular disease states to determine the overall level of cardiovascular function.

In meeting these objectives, studies are performed in human volunteers, intact animals, isolated heart and vascular tissues and cells, subcellular organelles and molecules. The research program is conceptualized and implemented within three sections: cardiac function; energy metabolism and biogenergetics; and membrane biology.

Laboratory of Neurosciences (LNS)

Investigators study the function and structure of the central nervous system in relation to neurodegenerative and developmental disorders. Basic studies involve brain phospholipid metabolism during neuroplas-ticity and functional activation, and blood-brain barrier transport and drug delivery.

Studies in the cerebral metabolism section deal with research on animal models related to human aging and disease, as well as collaborative efforts with the brain aging and dementia section, which operates an eight-bed patient care unit at the NIH Clinical Center. Physicians, pharmacologists, and physiologists work together on clinical brain imaging studies using positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance. Recent studies demonstrated that early metabolic deficits can be detected in brains of participants with a single memory disorder, pre-saging the later development of Alzheimer's dementia. Simulation PET studies have shown that metabolic deficits in Alzheimer's disease can be partially reversed with appropriate cognitive tests.

 

NIA Appropriations -- Grants and Direct Operations
[Amounts in thousands of dollars]

Fiscal
Year
Total Grants1
$
Direct Operations
$
Total
$
197529,565 6,42415,989
197611,4457,84319,288
197719,85210,14830,000
197824,37512,93037,305
197937,88819,02356,911
198043,95226,03669,988
198150,26025,34875,608
1982 55,410 26,49381,903
198363,48330,51393,996
198479,87235,420115,292
1985103,53039,438142,968
1986112,12738,819150,046
1987134,68942,772177,461
1988148,57545,973194,548
1989172,70849,837222,545
1990184,11154,816238,927
1991257,90565,886323,791
1992302,90879,974382,882
1993316,10783,336399,523
1994337,97582,291420,266
1995350,25383,035433,288
1 Includes research grants and research manpower development awards. Excludes research contracts.
2Comparable amount. Appropriations for aging are included within the NICHD appropriation for FY 1975.

 

Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry Program

This program collects and evaluates data on health and illness in the older population. The intramural scientific research carried out by EDBP staff is supplemented by research contracts, interagency agreements, and numerous working arrangements with Federal and non-Federal organizations. Basic information is generated on current and projected health, and social status of older people.

A multicenter, prospective study of 14,000 older Americans entitled "Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly" (EPESE) was initiated in 1980 to prospectively evaluate social, behavioral and environmental factors related to morbidity and mortality. A public use version of the EPESE baseline dataset for all four sites, as well as followup data from three sites, was made available to investigators in the U.S. The EPESE serves as a primary resource for a broad variety of epidemiologic studies of the elderly, including minorities.

The Women's Health and Aging Study was launched in 1991 as a comprehensive study of functional decline in older women with moderate to severe disability. The 5-year effort, being conducted under a contract awarded to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, will closely follow about 1,000 women to evaluate changes in physical status over a 3-year study period. Other factors, such as mortality and use of long-term care, will be evaluated.

In 1991 the EDBP started the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study. A complex cross-

national study, the research focuses on people already participating in the Honolulu Heart Program, an ongoing prospective study of cardiovascular diseases of American men ages 70 to 90 of Japanese ancestry. The aging study will use the heart program participants as a resource for research on dementia and to compare results with those generated by parallel studies in other Asian-ancestry populations.

The Veterans Study of Memory in Aging was initiated in 1994 with Duke University to retropectively study the association between closed head injury with Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative dementias. The project will study 3,000 U.S. Navy veterans who served 1994-45. Half of these men will have suffered closed head injury with loss of consciousness in 1944-45, and possibly at other times in their lives; the other half will have suffered no such head injury. Base upon results of cognitive screening, some of these men will be followed and about 140 of these men will eventually undergo an in-person clinical examination for dementia. Subsequent analysis will indicate any associations.

Progressive loss of muscle mass, or sarcopenia, has been hypothesized to be a common pathway by which multiple diseases contribute to disability. EDBP is initiating a clinical research study, the "Dynamics of Health, Aging and Body Composition" (HEALTH ABC) to characterize the extent of loss of muscle mass in older men and women, identify clinical conditions accelerating the loss of muscle, and examine the health impact of loss of muscle on strength, endurance, disability, and diseases common in old age. Approximately 3,000 men and women, ages 70-79, half of whom will be African American, will be enrolled at two clinical centers--the University of Tennessee, Memphis, and the University of Pittsburgh--and followed for 7 years for new onset of physical disability. The HEALTH ABC will provide invaluable information on optimal timing for interventions to prevent or reverse muscle loss and on high-risk groups most likely to benefit.

EDBP scientists performed a mortality followup study of a representative sample of persons dying over a 12-month period in Fairfield County, Conn. The study, known as the "Last Days of Life," allows for investigations into a number of important issues concerning the year prior to death in older persons.

Other areas of interest include disability and physical function; hip fracture and osteoporosis; heart disease; dementia; sleep disturbance; hearing and vision disorders; methodologic issues in aging research; and cross-cultural and international studies of aging and the diseases of aging.

 

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

This program area funds research on the identification and development of animal models, both mammalian and lower organism, for use in aging research.

Biomarkers

This area supports research to identify and validate a panel of biomarkers of aging in a rodent model, with eventual application of these biomarkers to humans.

Cell Biology.

This program area investigates aging at the cellular level and includes membranes and membrane receptors, growth factors, signal transduction, extracellular matrix, skin and cartilage, intercellular communication, and proteoglycan structure and function.

Differentiation

This area supports research on muscle biology and muscle

regeneration, developmental genetics related to aging, and age-dependent loss of differentiated cell function.

Endocrinology

The endocrinology program area supports basic research aimed at understanding the age-related changes in hormone production, metabolism, and action; reproductive aging; biology of menopause; age-related changes in control of prostate growth; and age-related changes in hormonal regulation of bone growth and bone cell function.

Genetics

This area supports research aimed at longevity assurance genes and sequence assurance genes, evolutionary genetics of aging and longevity, sex-dependent biological influences on aging, and the role of somatic cell mutations in aging.

Immunology

This program area encourages research on age-related changes in the immune system including regulation of lymphocyte proliferation, regulation of immune specificity, response of the immune system to biochemical stimuli, autoimmune disease and other immunopathology, endocrine and neuroendocrine control of immune function, and interventions to retard and/or correct age-related decline in immune function.

Molecular Biology

This area funds studies on the generation and metabolism of free radicals, repair of free radical damage in DNA and lipids, erythrocyte senescence, mechanisms of programmed cell death, and mechanisms of life span extension by caloric restriction.

Molecular Genetics

This area supports research on regulation of cell proliferation in normal, aging, and transformed cells; senescence-related changes in cell cycle-dependent gene expression, the role of telomeres in cell senescence; and age-related changes in gene expression.

Nutrition and Metabolism

This program supports research on nutritional factors in age-related disease, changes in RDAs with age, roles of nutrition in immune function, roles of dietary factors in oxidative damage and antioxidant defenses, the role of nutrition in age-related changes in tissue function, and the age-related changes in the metabolism of nutrients.

Pathobiology

This area supports research on the molecular basis of Werner's syndrome, arthritis and other age-related diseases; age-related changes in mitochondrial function, molecular basis of age-related pathology; and age-related changes in response to biological stress, especially heat shock and acute phage responses.

Physiology This area supports research on age-related changes in osteoblast and osteo-clast function and bone matrix, the cardiovascular system, and electronic transport

Protein Structure and Function

This area supports research on protein oxidation and turnover of damaged proteins, protein tertiary structure, glycation of proteins and the metabolism of glycated proteins, and the post-translational modification of proteins.

The Biology of Aging Program also includes the Office of Biological Resources and Resource Development and the Office of Nutrition. They coordinate NIA activities in the indicated areas and serve as liaison between NIA and other agencies.

 

Geriatrics Program

The program supports the development of clinical research on the special medical needs and problems of the growing aging population in the U.S.

The cardiovascular/pulmonary/renal program area develops and supports research on problems such as alterations in blood pressure regulation with age isolated systolic hypertension orthostatic hypotension aging changes in the microcirculation age-associated alterations in the composition of arteries and the effect of these alterations on cardiovascular function age-related change in quality, quantity, and function of the myocardium and the conduction system of the heart and changes with age in kidney and pulmonary function.

The centers program includes the support of the Claude Pepper Older American Independence Centers and the Teaching Nursing Home Program. Both support a broad spectrum of research relevant to health concerns of older people.

The endocrinology program area encourages and supports research aimed at providing an understanding of the age-related changes in endocrine function, including menopause, the mechanisms underlying these changes, and the impact of these changes on other physiologic systems.

The geriatric research and training 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 also 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.

The infectious diseases program area supports research on the relationship of physiologic changes associated with age or chronic disease to susceptibility to infections.

Other priorities include new strategies for evaluating vaccine efficacy in the elderly, potential prophylactic techniques for infections in the elderly, age-related changes in the effects of stresses such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and infection on granulopoiesis and lymphopoiesis, age-related changes in circulating levels of amyloid proteins and effects of amyloid deposition, and the interaction of aging and processes of carcinogenesis.

The mission of the musculoskeletal program area is to develop and support basic and clinical research on age-related changes in function of bone, muscle and cartilage. The program supports research on risk factors, prevention and treatment of falls, gait disorders and hip fractures in the elderly, as well as research on osteoarthritis, and urinary incontinence.

The nutrition, gastroenterology, and metabolism program area develops and supports basic and clinical research on effects of nutritional factors throughout the life span on longevity and age-associated morbidity assessment of nutritional status in the elderly 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.

The osteoporosis program supports basic and clinical research to identify age-associated processes which contribute to bone loss and osteoporosis markers and risk factors that are related to changes in bone mass, bone competence and the predisposition to falls and strategies based on modifying or reversing these processes. NIA especially emphasizes research on osteoporosis in advanced age, when the consequences, particularly those of hip fracture, become more severe and result in escalating morbidity and mortality.

 

Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging

This program fosters and supports extra-mural and collaborative research and training to further the understanding of the 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 program area fosters research on age-related cellular and molecular changes in the structure or function of the nervous system. Studies of neuroimmunology, neurovirology, neuroendocrinology, neuropharmacology, sensory and motor processes, sleep, biorhythmicity, and neural plasticity are of particular interest.

Dementias of Aging

This program area supports research on basic, clinical, and epidemiological studies of Alzheimer's disease, including the incidence, prevalence, and risk factors for Alzheimer's and other dementias the development of new and improved cognitive and diagnostic screening methods and the treatment and management of dementing diseases.

Neuropsychology of Aging

The neuro-psychology of aging office emphasizes research, including the use of animal models, and training on age-related changes in basic cognitive processes, learning and memory, as well as prosthetic devices and aids. The aim is to clarify the interdependence of brain function and behavioral capacity in aging.

 

Behavioral and Social Research

This program supports basic social and behavioral research through all award mechanisms 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.

The program is divided into three areas of research. It also supports development of datasets, methodologies, and other research resources, and it works with other agencies to coordinate the preparation of statistical data on aging.

Adult Psychological Development (APD) 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. An 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 (SSR) aims to understand the social and environmental conditions influencing health, well-being, and functioning of people in their middle and later years. Its two sections focus respectively on the dynamic processes linking health, behavior, and aging and on those linking social structures with behaviors, attitudes, health, and status of older people. Both 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.