National Institute on Aging (NIA)

Mission

NIA was established in 1974 to improve the health and well-being of older adults through research. It conducts and supports genetic, biological, behavioral, social, and economical research on aging and the challenges and needs of older adults. NIA is at the forefront of scientific discovery about the nature of healthy aging to extend the healthy, active years of life. It is also the lead federal agency for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias research.

NIA supports scientific initiatives and innovation at universities, medical centers, and research institutes across the U.S. and around the world; conducts research at its scientific laboratories in Baltimore and Bethesda, Maryland; and maintains an active communications and outreach program to share knowledge and disseminate information to the broader research community and to the public.

NIA’s work has led to important scientific discoveries about the aging process, age-related diseases and conditions, and the needs of the growing older adult population.

Important Events in NIA History

December 2, 1971 — The White House Conference on Aging recommends the creation of a separate National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.

May 31, 1974 — Public Law 93-296 authorizes the establishment of a National Institute on Aging and mandates the Institute develop a national comprehensive plan to coordinate the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (succeeded by the Department of Health and Human Services) involvement in aging research.

October 7, 1974 — The National Institute on Aging is established.

April 23, 1975 — First meeting of the National Advisory Council on Aging is held.

1984 — NIA funds Alzheimer's Disease Centers, where researchers at medical institutions nationwide focus on prevention and treatment while improving care and diagnosis.

1986 — Per congressional direction, NIA funds the Federal Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, a coordinating organization made up of more than 35 Federal agencies.

November 14, 1986 — P.L. 99-660, section 501-503, authorizes NIA's Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center as 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 establishes the Geriatric Research and Training Centers, renamed the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers in 1990 and charged with conducting research on diseases that threaten independent living.

1991 — NIA sets up the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study, an ongoing consortium of academic medical centers and others to facilitate clinical trials research.

1992 — NIA and the University of Michigan begin the Health and Retirement Study, which follows more than 20,000 people at 2-year intervals, providing data from pre-retirement to advanced age to enable multidisciplinary study of the causes and course of retirement.

1993 — The first Edward Roybal Centers for Research on Applied Gerontology are authorized, focusing on translational research to convert basic and clinical findings into programs that improve the lives of older people and their families.

NIA launches the Longevity Assurance Genes initiative, an interactive network of funded researchers looking for genetic clues to longevity, using a variety of organisms such as C. elegans, Drosophila and yeast.

1994 — The first Demography of Aging Centers are funded to provide research on health, economics and aging and to make more effective use of data from several national surveys of health, retirement and long-term care.

The Study of Women's Health Across the Nation is launched to characterize in diverse populations the biological and psychosocial influences related to the transition to menopause.

1995 — NIA’s Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in Basic Biology of Aging are established to further the study of the basic processes of aging.

1996 — NIA introduces Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging, providing encouragement and evidence-based guidance specifically for older adults.

1997 — The Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research are funded to investigate the variability of health differences experienced across racial and ethnic groups, as well as the mentoring of new scholars in health disparities research.

2000 — NIA distributes established mouse cDNA microarray/clone set containing more than 15,000 unique genes to 10 designated academic centers worldwide.

2001 — In a unique private-public partnership, NIA joins the Osteoarthritis Initiative to bring together resources and commitment to the search for biological markers of osteoarthritis.

NIA and the Icelandic Heart Association announce collaboration on a vast study on the interactions of age, genes and the environment. The collaboration extends 34 years of data on the health of 23,000 Icelandic residents into the new millennium.

2003 — NIA and the American Federation for Aging Research — in collaboration with the John A. Hartford Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies and Staff Foundation — establish a public-private partnership to support clinically trained junior faculty to pursue careers in aging research.

2004 — NIA launches the Longevity Consortium, a network of investigators from several large-scale human cohort studies working in collaboration with individual basic biological aging researchers to facilitate the discovery, confirmation and understanding of genetic determinants of healthy human longevity.

NIA, in conjunction with other federal agencies and private companies and organizations through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, leads the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

NIA launches Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span, a multidisciplinary community-based, longitudinal epidemiologic study examining the influences and interaction of race and socioeconomic status on the development of age-associated health disparities among socioeconomically diverse African Americans and whites in Baltimore.

2006 — NIA leads the NIH conference “AD: Setting the Research Agenda a Century after Auguste D,” a conclave assessing the state of current Alzheimer's disease research and the most promising routes to progress.

2007 — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sponsors the Summit on Global Aging in collaboration with NIA to call attention to challenges and opportunities worldwide from population aging.

2008 — NIA convenes a Biology of Aging Summit to review its research portfolio, identify areas of opportunity, and facilitate formulation of comprehensive research plans for the future.

Longitudinal Study of Aging is expanded to examine to include Insights into the Determinants of Exceptional Aging and Longevity (IDEAL). IDEAL is a sub-study of the Baltimore function in late life to prevent disease and disability in a small but growing segment of the aging population.

NIA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA). Launched in 1958, the BLSA is the most comprehensive and longest running longitudinal examination of human aging in the world.

2009 — NIA collaborates with HBO Documentary Films on The Alzheimer’s Project, an Emmy Award winning, multi-platform (television, web, DVD and print) public health series.

2011 — NIA launches the Go4Life campaign with public and private partners from a variety of aging, fitness and provider organizations. The goal is to promote exercise and physical activity nationwide for people 50 and older.

NIA and the Alzheimer’s Association lead an effort to update diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer's disease to reflect the full spectrum of the disease, marking the first time in 27 years clinical and research criteria are changed.

The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) is signed into law. NAPA requires a coordinated national effort to find ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and to improve care and services. NIH, represented by NIA, participates in the federal Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care, and Services.

NIA leads the formation of the Trans-NIH GeroScience Interest Group. The group promotes discussion, sharing of ideas, and coordination of activities within the NIH research community, working on mechanisms underlying age-related changes, including those which could lead to increased disease susceptibility.

2012 — HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the NAPA-required National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. NIA plays a critical role in developing the first goal of the plan, which is to Effectively Treat or Prevent Alzheimer’s by 2025.

The NIA Intramural Research Program is reorganized to recognize new paradigms in the field of aging research. The program now integrates labs and resources, bringing together those who share similar research interests from different vantage points.

NIA organizes the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit 2012: Path to Treatment and Prevention. Some 500 researchers and advocates attend the meeting, which results in guidelines aimed at advancing Alzheimer’s disease research.

NIA launches the International Alzheimer’s Disease Research Portfolio. Designed in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association, the database captures the full spectrum of research investment and resources and enables public and private funders of Alzheimer’s research to share and review funding data.

NIA leads development of the NIH Toolbox for Neurological and Behavioral Function, which offers researchers a free set of brief tests to assess cognitive, sensory motor and emotional function in toddlers to older adults.

2013 — NIA hosts the Robert N. Butler Memorial Lecture to honor its founding director, Robert N. Butler, M.D., (1927-2010) who put in place the rationale and organization for a broad program of basic, biomedical, social and behavioral research that remains at the core of NIA’s efforts. NIA grantee Ronald D. Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic presented the lecture, focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Butler’s research priority.

The NIA Summer Institute on Aging Research is renamed the Butler-Williams Scholars Program in honor of NIA’s first two directors — the late Robert N. Butler, M.D., and T. Franklin Williams, M.D., whose tenures at NIA focused on developing a diverse and dedicated research workforce in aging.

NIA, with other institutes and the private sector, cosponsors the Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementias: Research Challenges and Opportunities Summit, led by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The workshop focused on such conditions as Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia.

The Trans-NIH Geroscience Interest Group (GSIG) hosts the Advances in Geroscience: Impacts on Healthspan and Chronic Disease Summit. With NIA leadership, GSIG organized and co-sponsored this conference with the Alliance for Aging Research and the Gerontological Society of America, with additional private sector support provided through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH).

NIH, with NIA leadership, leads U.S. participation in a new international effort to address Alzheimer’s disease research and care. NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., and NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D., were part of a delegation attending the G-8 Dementia Summit in London, the goal of which was to develop a coordinated global strategy to address the growing global burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

2014 — NIA’s 40th anniversary is celebrated at the Gerontological Society of America annual meeting in Washington, DC. A symposium, From Cells to Society: NIA at 40 — Past, Present, and Future, commemorated the Institute’s first four decades and considered the future of research on aging.

The Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) is launched. A groundbreaking collaboration among NIH, FDA, 10 biopharmaceutical companies, and several non-profits, the project is designed to transform the current model for developing new diagnostics and treatments by jointly identifying and validating promising biological targets of disease. NIA leads the AMP Alzheimer’s disease component.

NIH and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) join forces to support a clinical trial to test effective, evidence-based, individually tailored interventions to prevent fall-related injuries. The award, supported by the NIA and PCORI as part of the Falls Injuries Prevention Partnership, is expected to total some $30 million over a five-year project. This study aims to integrate proven falls reduction strategies into a cohesive intervention that can be adopted by many health care systems.

2015 — NIA leads the NIH development of the first Professional Judgment Budget for Alzheimer’s disease. Mandated by Congress to inform legislators of the strategy and resources needed to meet research goals of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, this “bypass budget” suggests the amount of additional funds needed in Fiscal Year 2017 to accelerate the pace of discovery leading to prevention or treatment of Alzheimer’s by 2025.

September is designated as Go4Life Month in collaboration with the White House Conference on Aging. The designation spotlights the importance of physical activity and exercise for older adults and energizes partnerships and activities related to this important health campaign, featuring events with the U.S. Surgeon General, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and other national, state and local partners.

2016 — The Trans-NIH GeroScience Interest Group with essential collaboration and support from the New York Academy of Sciences, American Federation of Aging Research, and Gerontological Society of America, developed the “Disease Drivers of Aging: 2016 Advances in Geroscience Summit”, at the request of the research community. The focus was on how chronic diseases – specifically cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes – affect biological aging.

NIA announces the Fiscal Year 2018 Professional Judgment Budget for Alzheimer’s disease.

2017 — NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D., presented at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, in Davos Switzerland on “Curing Alzheimer’s: The Research Imperative.”(link is external)

NIH launched the Alzheimer's Disease Research Implementation Milestone Database , a user-friendly web-based tool to track NIH funding initiatives and activities, targeting milestones aimed at achieving National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease ultimate research goal.

NIA and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, with support from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, convened the Cognitive Aging Summit to Highlight Brain Resilience, Reserve. This scientific meeting was built upon priorities and research directions identified at two previous Cognitive Aging Summits, held in 2007 and 2010 respectively.

NIA announces the Fiscal Year 2019 Professional Judgment Budget for Alzheimer’s disease.

2018 — NIA facilitated the first National Research Summit on Care, Services, and Supports for Persons with Dementia and Their Caregivers. The summit focused on the research needed to develop, evaluate, implement and disseminate comprehensive care, service and support for people with dementia, their families and other caregivers.

The National Advisory Council on Alzheimer's Research, Care, and Services issued a final report(link is external) from the first National Research Summit on Care, Services, and Supports for Persons with Dementia and Their Caregivers.

The 2018 NIH Alzheimer's Research Summit featured progress toward achieving the Alzheimer’s disease research implementation milestones and to continue development of an integrated multidisciplinary research agenda necessary to enable precision medicine for Alzheimer’s.

NIA announces the Fiscal Year 2020 Professional Judgment Budget for Alzheimer’s disease.

2019 — NIA’s 45th anniversary is celebrated at the Gerontological Society of America annual meeting in Austin, Texas. A symposium, Strength in Age: Harnessing the Benefits of NIA’s 45 Years, commemorated the Institute’s landmark achievements.

NIA launched the Alzheimer's & Dementia Outreach, Recruitment & Engagement Resources (ADORE) website to support the recruitment and retention of participants in clinical trials and studies on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. ADORE resources include recruitment plans, communication materials, toolkits and guides, videos, and related research articles.

NIA released Together We Make the Difference: National Strategy for Recruitment and Participation in Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Clinical Research with co-facilitation by the Alzheimer’s Association and many other organizations and experts.

The third Geroscience Summit, organized by the trans-NIH Geroscience Interest Group, provide a forum for novel interactions between disease-focused professional societies and foundations, and the community of researchers and practitioners of geroscience.

NIA announces the Fiscal Year 2021 professional Judgment Budget for Alzheimer’s disease.

2020 — NIA, in collaboration with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, announced a new Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (CARD) to accelerate translational research on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

NIA played a leading role in NIH’s COVID-19 research initiatives, including through RADx and other efforts to save lives.

In response to increased injustices in U.S. society, the NIA director and deputy director blogged on Combatting racial inequality in aging research.

NIA announces Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Professional Judgement Budget for FY 2022

Dementia Care, Caregiving, and Services Research Summit Virtual Meeting Series

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

Richard J. Hodes, M.D., is the director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As a leading researcher in the field of immunology, Dr. Hodes was named NIA director in 1993.

NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on the biological, clinical, behavioral and social aspects of aging. Dr. Hodes has devoted his tenure to the development of a strong, diverse and balanced research program. This has led to new and innovative ways to conduct research, share data and translate findings into practice. Basic biologic research is examining genetic and other factors influencing aging, how they affect longevity and the development of age-related diseases. Research in geriatrics is uncovering new ways to combat frailty and improve function with age. Behavioral and social research is deepening understanding of the individual behaviors and societal decisions that affect well-being.

Dr. Hodes also directs the federal effort to find effective ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease, as NIA is the lead NIH institute for this mission. Cutting-edge research conducted and supported by NIA, often in collaboration across other Institutes ant Center at NIH, has helped to revolutionize the way we think about Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Studies in genetics, basic mechanisms, imaging and biomarkers have spurred the development of potential therapies aimed at a variety of targets and the testing of interventions at the earliest signs of disease.

Dr. Hodes' research laboratory in the National Cancer Institute focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate the immune response.

He is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, a member of The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Medicine at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

A graduate of Yale University, Dr. Hodes received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He completed training in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and in Oncology at the National Cancer Institute. As an author of more than 250 research papers, Dr. Hodes is an influential scientist in and contributor to the field of immunology.

NIA Directors

Name In Office From To
Norman Kretchmer (Acting) October 1974 July 1975
Richard C. Greulich (Acting) July 1975 April 1976
Robert N. Butler May 1, 1976 July 1982
Robert L. Ringler (Acting) July 16, 1982 June 30, 1983
T. Franklin Williams July 1, 1983 July 31, 1991
Gene D. Cohen (Acting) July 1, 1991 May 31, 1993
Richard J. Hodes June 1, 1993 Present

Research Programs

Intramural Research

Laboratory of Cardiovascular Science (LCS)

LCS goals are to: 1) identify age associated changes that occur within the cardiovascular system and to determine the mechanisms for these changes; 2) determine how aging of the heart and vasculature interacts with chronic disease states to enhance the risk for CV diseases in older persons; 3) study basic mechanisms in excitation-contraction coupling and how these are modulated by surface receptor signaling pathways in cardiac cells; 4) elucidate mechanisms of pacemaker activity in sinoatrial nodal cells; 5) elucidate mechanisms that govern cardiac and vascular cell survival; and 6) establish the potentials and limitations of new therapeutic approaches such as changes in lifestyle, novel pharmacologic agents or gene or stem cell transfer techniques in aging or disease states.

Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Immunology (LMBI)

The unifying theme of LMBI's research program is to uncover molecular mechanisms that are pertinent to understanding and ameliorating age-associated disabilities and diseases, with emphasis on changes in the immune system. Programs cover fundamental biological questions such as: 1) the study of gene regulatory mechanisms that mediate cellular responses to developmental signals, immune activation and stress stimuli; 2) induction of effective immune responses, including the mechanisms of class switch recombination and somatic hypermutation, and generation and maintenance of memory; 3) the role of telomere length and telomerase activity in lymphocyte function and aging; and 4) immune regulatory mechanisms that affect aging. LMBI programs have a strong translational component with studies aimed at improving vaccine efficacy in the elderly and examining the molecular and cellular basis of tumor metastasis. A wide variety of in vitro and in vivo models are employed to approach these issues. LMBI also collaborates with Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging researchers to enable direct application of molecular parameters to the human condition.

Laboratory of Clinical Investigation (LCI)

LCI seeks to understand fundamental metabolic processes that change with aging, to elucidate which alterations are pathological and which are homeostatic as humans age. LCI investigators hope to uncover ways to manage and/or circumvent the pathological alterations so that the health of the elderly stays stable. Studies are performed at molecular, cellular, animal model, and human levels. Further, LCI takes a multisystem approach to age-related changes because changes in one system lead to adaptive changes in another. Understanding which are adaptive and which are primary is an intense area of investigation using newly developed multidimensional algorithms and computer programs. The areas of most intense investigation within LCI are pancreatic islet morphology and changes therein with obesity, inflammation, and aging; senescence of stem cells; metabolic perturbations of neurodegeneration; development and validation of blood-based, histological-based and imaging biomarkers of age-related and vascular-related neurodegeneration to inform diagnosis and the testing of potential therapeutic interventions; and development of plant-based compounds as treatments for metabolic conditions. In each of these cases, translational research is far advanced on target compounds that are hypothesized to alter natural history of age-related diseases or are already shown to be beneficial in humans. LCI also carries out proof-of-principle Phase 1 research with index compounds that have been developed in the basic science laboratories.

Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Sciences (LEPS)

LEPS researchers investigate the causes and consequences of disease and function-specific outcomes that are highly prevalent in the population, with particular focus on those related to aging and health disparities. The laboratory takes a multi-modality and multi-disciplinary approach which includes observational studies, clinical trials, and translational experimental research. Studies are designed to integrate knowledge and identify common behavioral and biologic pathways of disease and function related to the cardiovascular, neuro-cognitive, musculoskeletal, body composition, and metabolic systems, and investigate how these are affected by age, health disparities, socioeconomic status, genetic difference, and modifiable risk factors. Common mechanisms of interest include inflammation, metabolic dysregulation, increase in visceral fat and decrease in muscle mass, elevated blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. Genetic contributions and their interactions with behavioral and physiologic factors are studied in the context of genome wide association study consortia. Efforts also focus on translation to clinical trials of our findings based on observational studies. In addition, LEPS actively investigates state-of-the-art objective measures that can be applied in population-based cohorts. To address these questions, LEPS has developed a large number of well-phenotyped longitudinally followed cohorts, including the Age Gene/Environment-Reykjavik Study (AGES-RS), the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) Study, and the Health and Body Composition Study (HABC).

Laboratory of Genetics and Genomics (LGG)

LGG goals are to understand the genetic and genomic determinants of aging. Researchers investigate the genes and gene expression programs that govern the physiologic declines of aging (e.g., reduced strength, menopause, decreased ability to respond to nutrient imbalances, and diminished immune function) and the increased pathologies of the elderly (e.g., neurodegeneration, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and cancer). LGG aims include (1) identifying cohorts of genes and mechanisms involved in the development of select non-renewable (and hence aging-prone) cell systems; (2) elucidating genetic factors that determine aging-related traits, rates of aging, and diseases in the population on the island of Sardinia; (3) uncovering multi-protein complexes that mediate the DNA damage response, chromatin remodeling, and RNA metabolism associated with cancer and neurodegeneration; and (4) investigating post-transcriptional gene regulatory processes that affect the normal physiologic decline of aging and the aberrant gene expression programs in age-associated disease.

Laboratory of Molecular Gerontology (LMG)

LMG investigates DNA metabolism including genomic instability, DNA repair, DNA replication, and transcription with special attention to examining the role of DNA damage accumulation in senescence, which is a major cause of aging. Researchers investigate how accumulation of DNA damage with aging leads to senescence, mitochondrial dysfunction, and age-associated disease. LMG has found a signaling pathway from nuclear damage to mitochondrial dysfunction, which seems to be defective in some DNA repair defective disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, and intervention with nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide supplementation has beneficial effects. LMG also investigates the mechanistic role of human premature aging proteins in preventing early aging. Researchers study the mechanism involved in DNA repair of oxidative lesions; and in base excision repair, including the function of individual DNA repair proteins and their protein interactions. LMG also studies proteins and pathways involved in the maintenance of the chromosome ends, the telomeres. Investigators explore how DNA interstrand crosslinks — very detrimental to cells — are removed from DNA and how this relates to age-associated disease. In addition, LMG studies the roles of DNA helicases in genomic stability and conducts translational and intervention studies. Thus, the focus is on genome stability and maintenance and its connection to aging with a view to intervention.

Laboratory of Neurogenetics (LNG)

LNG studies neurodegenerative diseases based on a resolution of their genetic etiology. The Molecular Genetics Section is focused on finding genes for neurodegenerative disease, particularly Parkinson’s disease and related disorders; the Neuromuscular Disease Research Unit works toward an understanding of the genetic basis of neuromuscular disorders including Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; the Cell Biology & Gene Expression Section seeks to develop an understanding of the effects of mutant genes on cell physiology, including patient derived cells; the Transgenic Unit examines the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders in whole animals and to identify underlying physiological pathways relevant disease risk; and the Molecular Neuropathology Section uses both patient derived material and experimental systems to investigate novel therapeutic approaches across a range of neurodegenerative diseases. Underpinning this structure are three groups: a Computational Biology Core to facilitate the analysis of laboratory data in the broad context of the wealth of information available through the Human Genome Project and related endeavors, a Statistical Genetics Group that uses high volume genetic and other data to derive population level analyses relevant to neurodegenerative diseases, and a Genomic Technologies Group to leverage and support the most recent genomic approaches.

Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience (LBN)

LBN conducts basic and clinical research on individual differences in cognition, personality, and affect; investigates the cellular, neural systems, and genetic contributions to variation between individuals in animal models and humans; examines predictors and modifiers of age-related neurodegenerative diseases, cognitive and brain aging, and brain-behavior associations; identifies early markers of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline; examines factors that promote the maintenance of cognitive health; and develops and validates blood-based and imaging biomarkers of age-related neurodegeneration to inform diagnosis elucidate disease mechanisms and identify potential novel therapeutics. Laboratory investigators employ a variety of approaches, including experimental, longitudinal, neuroimaging, biomarker, neuropathological, anatomical, molecular, and genetic methods in the analysis of biological and psychological aspects of aging.

Translational Gerontology Branch (TGB)

TGB is focused on improving the health and well-being of the elderly population through epidemiological, clinical, and basic research programs, with a special emphasis on longitudinal observations and intervention studies. TGB conducts the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging as a part of efforts to investigate and develop novel strategies and interventions to support healthy aging and the prevention or delay of functional decline and age-related diseases. TGB’s main research goals are to: 1) translate discoveries made from human and model organisms to the basic biology (and vice versa), mainstreaming the “bench-to-bedside-to-bench” approach; 2) explore and identify the underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for the functional decline that occurs with age, and 3) develop and test interventions to delay aging processes.

The Center for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias (CARD)

CARD is a collaborative initiative between NIA and the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke that supports basic, translational, and clinical research on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias including vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia. CARD’s mission is to initiate, stimulate, accelerate, and support research that will lead to the development of improved treatments for these devastating diseases. The focus is on using a data-driven and collaborative approach that emphasizes robust, replicable findings and open science. Through CARD, NIA supports collaborative work engaging researchers across the NIH Intramural program, government, academia, and industry. CARD researchers will work across scientific domains and disease boundaries to bridge basic, preclinical, and clinical research with particular focus on 1) molecular pathogenesis anchored in genetics, 2) disease subtyping, prediction, and prognosis, 3) de-risking of therapeutic targets and strategies, and 4) precision therapeutics.

Extramural Research

Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

DEA manages NIA's grants and training policies and procedures, including oversight of grants and contract administration, scientific review, clinical research coordination, and committee management functions. It serves as NIA’s primary liaison to the NIH Office of Extramural Research and to other NIH Institutes and Centers that share research interests. DEA manages NIA's extramural training programs, career development programs, small business initiatives, and other special programs. The division also manages the new Clinical Research Operations & Management System (CROMS). The division handles scientific integrity and ethical questions in research and manages the National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA).

Scientific Review Branch (SRB)

SRB conducts the initial peer review of applications with NIA-specific needs. These include applications for research centers, program projects, cooperative agreements, institutional training grants, career development awards, scientific conference meetings, Loan repayment awards, and contract proposals. SRB also manages the review of research project applications, primarily in response to NIA’s Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) such as Requests for Applications and Requests for Proposals.

Grants and Contracts Management Branch

This branch works with scientists and institutional research administrators to issue, manage, and close out awards. The branch has legal responsibility for the fiscal management of the Institute’s extramural grants and contracts.

Office of Small Business Research (OSBR)

OSBR oversees, coordinates, and supports the development of research conducted by small businesses, with particular attention to both the Small Business Innovative Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program. Small businesses responsibilities include responding to applicants’ questions on relevant FOAs, coordination of the Small Business Committee and funding lists, outreach, and the development and management of resources to help facilitate the success of both applicants and awardees. OSBR also oversees, coordinates, and supports NIA’s fellowship, training, and career development programs. Its work includes responding to applicants’ questions on relevant FOAs, and coordination of the Fellowship Funding Committee, diversity and related supplements, funding lists, and outreach.

DEA Office of the Director (OD)

This office coordinates a variety of programmatic areas: Responsibilities include referring grant applications to their appropriate scientific divisions; loan repayment program; Human Subjects System and NIA Inclusion Reporting; assisting in diversity and inclusion reporting; running funding meetings for NIA senior leadership; and overseeing the publication of NIA’s FOAs. OD also responds to analytical requests from stakeholders within and outside of NIH regarding NIA’s extramural grant operations, including subjects such as the Next Generation Researchers Initiative. In addition, OD manages NACA operations and meetings. Finally, the OD manages and coordinates various clinical research activities across the extramural division; specifically the CROMS system that provides institute-wide informatics capability to track, report, and manage NIA’s clinical research data, activities, and grant portfolio.

National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA)

Congress created NACA to advise, consult with, and make recommendations to the HHS Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Health, and the NIH and NIA directors. NACA provides counsel on matters relating to the conduct and support of biomedical, social, and behavioral research; training; health information dissemination; and other programs regarding the aging process, diseases, and other needs of the aging population.

NACA consists of 18 members appointed by the HHS Secretary and four non-voting ex officio members. Of the 18 appointed members, 12 are leading representatives of health and scientific disciplines, including the fields of public health and behavioral or social sciences. Six of the members are leaders from the general public in the fields of public policy, law, health policy, economics, and management. NACA meets three times annually.

Division of Aging Biology (DAB)

DAB plans and supports molecular, cellular, genetic, interventional, and systems biology research on the mechanisms of aging and age-related conditions. It also supports biological resource facilities that provide aged animals and banked tissues for use in aging research. DAB-supported research includes work with isolated or cultured cells, organoids, laboratory animals, wild populations, and human subjects. The goal is to provide a basis in basic biology for preventative and interventional strategies to increase resilience and extend healthy aging. DAB includes the following programs:

Animal Models supports comparative biology research and development of new animal models for aging research. Current models include rats, mice, birds, fish, rabbits, nonhuman primates, insects, nematodes, various other invertebrates, and yeasts (fungi).

Biological Resources manages biological resources through contracts including the NIA cell repository, rodent tissue bank, nonhuman primate tissue bank, and the primate aging database. In addition, it coordinates the Intervention Testing Program using mice and the Caenorhabditis Intervention Testing Program using three species of Caenorhabditis. These are separate multi-institutional studies testing reproducibility of non-genetic interventions to delay aging.

Cell Biology supports research on the age-related changes in cell physiology and its microenvironment, including cellular senescence, apoptosis, autophagy, cancer, cell-autonomy, cellular structures, signaling mechanisms, and protein homeostasis that might contribute to healthy aging.

Endocrinology supports basic research into the causes and effects of age-related changes in the endocrine system, and on aging-dependent changes in cellular responses to endocrine factors.

Genetics supports studies to identify and characterize molecular mechanisms affecting longevity and healthy aging in the areas of genome stability, telomere biology, chromatin, epigenetic changes, and progeroid syndromes.

Immunology supports studies on changes in the immune systems of older people that affect health and may contribute to the increased incidence of infection including regulation of lymphocyte proliferation, immune specificity, autoimmune disease, and other immunopathologies, endocrine control of immune function, and interventions to retard and/or correct age-related decline in immune function.

Metabolic Regulation supports research on nutrition and metabolism in relation to aging including age-related changes in intermediary metabolism, mitochondrial [dys]function, and mechanisms by which caloric restriction, circadian rhythms, free radicals, and oxidative stress affect metabolism and healthy aging.

Musculoskeletal Biology supports studies on muscle, bone cartilage, and skin that focus on identifying molecular mechanisms of the age-related decline in tissue homeostasis (e.g., causes of osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, sarcopenia, etc.) Another focus is on how these tissues interact in the context of overall health to establish an integrated physiology of healthy aging.

Stem Cells supports research on changes in stem cell populations, stem cell niches, and their functional characteristics during aging.

Tissue Physiology supports research on the integrated physiology of multiple organ systems that affect aging, as well as the age-related changes specific to the function of each of several specific organ systems.

DAB chairs the Trans-NIH Geroscience Interest Group (GSIG) that includes representation from 20 NIH Institutes and Centers. Designed as a collaborative framework, GSIG promotes identification of innovative approaches to better understand the relationship between the biological processes of aging and age-related health. GSIG aims to accelerate and coordinate efforts to promote further discoveries on the role of aging processes in the development of chronic diseases and disabilities, with the goal of resolving health problems among our increasingly older population.

Division of Behavioral and Social Research (BSR)

BSR supports basic and translational social, behavioral, psychological, and economic research and research training on the processes of aging at both the individual and societal level. As detailed below, this includes research on behavioral and social pathways to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD) and on the impact on of AD/ADRD on individuals, families, institutions, and societies. BSR fosters cross-disciplinary research on aging and AD/ADRD, at multiple levels of analysis ranging from genetics to cross-national comparative studies, and from a life course perspective. The division supports translational research at all stages, from basic through dissemination and implementation, in line with the NIH Stage Model of Intervention Development.

Individual Behavioral Processes Branch (IBP)

IBP develops and supports research programs with a broad scientific scope on psychological, behavioral, and interpersonal processes of relevance to aging. This includes research on: mechanisms of behavior change and behavioral interventions; cognitive, affective, and social functioning; molecular and behavior genetics; sociogenomics; technology and human factors; family and interpersonal relationships; and integrative biobehavioral research on the mechanistic pathways linking social and behavioral factors to health in mid-life and older age. There is a strong emphasis on life course research, including both early life and midlife causal influences on later life outcomes and trajectories of aging. IBP encourages studies of the life course and aging in humans and in wild and captive animal models. IBP priorities include research on vulnerable populations, under-represented minorities, and the social determinants of health as captured in the NIA Health Disparities Research Framework. Research to elucidate the psychological, behavioral, and interpersonal mechanisms that account for later life health inequalities is particularly encouraged. The branch supports research that is highly interdisciplinary, linking methods and approaches from psychology, anthropology, economics, neuroscience, and genetics.

IBP collaborates with the NIA Division of Neuroscience to encourage research at the intersection of behavior and neuroscience, notably in the areas of cognitive interventions, cognitive epidemiology, decision neuroscience and affective neuroscience. Collaborations with the NIA Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology include the influence of childhood factors on aging outcomes, as well as research on pain, subjective well-being, and resilience in aging. Collaborations with the NIA Division of Aging Biology center on the extent to which an understanding of behavioral and social processes, including stress reactivity and stress resilience, can provide mechanistic insights into factors that drive biological aging.

IBP manages Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) to enhance the diversity of the aging research workforce and to increase the number of researchers focused on health disparities and the health and well-being of minority older adults. IBP collaborates with the BSR Population and Social Processes branch in managing the Edward R. Roybal Centers for Translational Research to foster the translation and integration of basic behavioral and social research findings into interventions that will improve the lives of older people and the capacity of institutions to adapt to societal aging.

Population and Social Processes Branch (PSP)

PSP supports research and data infrastructure projects on how demographic, social, economic, institutional, geographic, and other factors at the population level influence health and mortality at older ages. “Health” is broadly defined to include physical and cognitive functioning (including AD/ADRD), disability, morbidity, and well-being. PSP encourages research that develops and uses large diverse nationally representative longitudinal cohort data with measures of early life experiences to study the factors that explain trends, dynamics, and disparities in outcomes across the life course as well as in later life. PSP focal areas include:

  • Elucidating life course pathways leading to health outcomes and disparities.
  • Unpacking socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity as risk factors to better understand the mechanisms by which they produce health and influence disparities in health.
  • International and comparative research to further our understanding of how different social, familial, environmental, geographic, cultural, and institutional contexts influence the aging process, health, and mortality.
  • Understanding the influence of health care services, the health care system, and long-term supports and services on the health and well-being of older persons with chronic disease, disability, and AD/ADRD, as well as their care providers.
  • How environmental, social, economic, institutional, structural, and other factors affect health and well-being, including health-related behaviors, healthcare utilization, health disparities, and responses to public health interventions.
  • Interdisciplinary research with connections to biological, genetic, psychological, behavioral, and interpersonal factors to better understand social and population processes influencing health and aging.
  • Research using a diverse set of analytical approaches, including life cycle, comparative, geographic distribution, rural/urban, cohort, and multi-level.
  • Population-level interventions and pragmatic trials to improve health, health delivery, quality of care, and to reduce health disparities as well as quasi-experimental techniques to identify causal effects where experiments are impractical or infeasible.

PSP manages the Centers on the Demography and Economics of Aging to foster the development of innovative population and social research in aging as well as develop research resources to facilitate aging research. Collaboration with other NIA center programs is encouraged to enhance interdisciplinary research.

Behavioral and Social Research on Alzheimer’s Disease

Within and across the branches, BSR supports research and initiatives on life course familial, social, psychological, behavioral, institutional, and economic factors pertaining to cognitive health and AD/ADRD at both the population and individual levels. BSR is committed to advancing high-caliber science in a variety of disciplines, including demography, lifespan development, psychology, behavioral medicine, behavioral economics, sociology, social and decision neuroscience, health services research, behavioral and population genetics, and social epidemiology to promote the health and wellbeing of persons living with AD/ADRD and their caregivers.

BSR’s AD/ADRD portfolio spans multiple levels from genetics to cross-national comparative research, and all stages from basic through translational. Priority topics include dementia care and long-term services and supports, caregiver research, and caregiving interventions, cognitive and dementia epidemiology, behavioral and social pathways of risk and resilience for AD/ADRD, early psychological and functional changes in AD/ADRD, AD/ADRD prevention and the promotion of long term behavioral and lifestyle change. Throughout these topics, there is a strong focus on health disparities. BSR also develops and supports numerous data and infrastructure resources for AD/ADRD research in the social, behavioral, psychological, and economic sciences.

Data Resources for Behavioral and Social Research on Aging

NIA supports a variety of longitudinal studies (most notably the population-representative Health and Retirement Study), harmonization projects, archives, repositories, and networks intended to facilitate research on aging in the behavioral and social sciences. Our data resources include large samples of minority populations to support disparities research as well as educational cohorts to study life course aging and cognition. Further, NIA support for international comparators to the U.S. Health and Retirement Study include implementation of the Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol to facilitate cross-national research on dementia epidemiology and produce national estimates of AD prevalence and incidence. Data from these studies are available to qualified researchers, subject only to restrictions imposed for some linked administrative data. With input from periodic reports, including those by the NACA, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and ad hoc expert review panels, BSR has developed a portfolio of publicly available data projects to meet evolving scientific priorities, many of which are highlighted on the NIA website.

Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology (DGCG)

The DGCG supports research on health and disease in older people and research on aging over the human lifespan, including its relationships to health outcomes. DGCG comprises three major research areas, divided into three division branches — Geriatrics, Clinical Gerontology, and Clinical Trials. Program-wide emphases include research training and career development to attract new investigators to the field of aging and to further the development of active investigators in clinical medicine and biomedical research, and the application of new technologies to expand opportunities for clinical aging research.

Geriatrics focuses on health issues regarding older people. Research emphases include multifactorial geriatric syndromes such as falls, frailty, and various types of disability; effects of comorbidity and polypharmacy; effects of age-related changes on clinical or functional disease outcomes or treatment responses; effects of physical activity on disease and disability in older persons; and the elucidation, diagnosis, and treatment of previously unappreciated pathologic changes in old age (e.g., sarcopenia, vascular stiffening, diastolic dysfunction). The Geriatrics Branch supports the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers (OAICs). The OAICs conduct basic and clinical research to enhance the ability of older people to maintain their independence.

Clinical Gerontology focuses on clinically related research on aging changes over the lifespan. Research emphases include healthy aging across the lifespan (including exceptional longevity); protective factors against multiple age-related conditions; determinants of rates of progression of age-related changes that affect disease risk, particularly those for multiple age-related conditions; menopause and mid-life aging changes; translational human research to follow up findings from basic research on aging; long-term effects of current or new interventions that may be administered over a large part of the lifespan; and long-term effects of physical activity throughout the lifespan.

Clinical Trials plans and administers clinical trials on age-related issues. Research emphases include interventions to prevent or treat “geriatric syndromes,” disability, and complications of comorbidity or polypharmacy; trials to detect age- or comorbidity-related differences in responses to interventions against conditions found in middle age and old age; interventions for problems associated with menopause and other mid- and late-life changes; interventions that may affect rates of progression of age-related declines in function in early and mid-life; and interventions with protective effects against multiple age-related conditions, including intervention studies on the effects of androgens in older men.

Division of Neuroscience (DN)

Organized into five branches, DN fosters and supports extramural and collaborative research and training to advance understanding of neural and behavioral processes and of neurodegenerative diseases associated with brain aging. Research on dementias of old age — in particular Alzheimer's disease — is one of the division's highest priorities.

Neurobiology of Aging and Neurodegeneration

This branch fosters research aimed at understanding how the nervous system is affected during normal and pathological aging. Research is supported on the genetic, molecular, cellular, and neural mechanisms underlying changes in the brain and its interaction with other physiological systems.

Fundamental Neuroscience supports studies on age-related structural and functional changes in the brain, including mechanisms of selective vulnerability and plasticity of neural cells, synapses, circuits, and networks to neurodegeneration. Research is supported on the role of hallmarks of aging, senescence, genetics/epigenetics, DNA damage, cell stress, proteostasis, mitochondria, metabolism, lipid neurobiology, neuroglia, neuroplasticity, neural stem cells/neurogenesis, and cell reprogramming in brain aging and neurodegeneration. Basic Science of Alzheimer’s Disease supports examination of molecular, cellular, synaptic, and circuitry mechanisms, inflammation, proteinopathy, protein polymorphisms, structural biology, and cerebrovasculature in the etiology and pathobiology of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias of aging. In Integrative Neurobiology, the focus is on neural mechanisms underlying age-related changes between organ systems and the CNS, on endocrine and immune functions, and on neurodegenerative diseases associated with infectious agents. Sleep and Biological Rhythms encompasses age-related studies of epidemiology, etiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sleep disorders of older people; and of altered sleep-wake cycles/disordered biorhythmicity and their behavioral and neurodegenerative effects in aging.

Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience

This branch emphasizes research on the neural mechanisms underlying age- and Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in cognition, emotion, sensory, and motor function, from the level of genes to the whole organism and epidemiological studies of populations. Studies of molecular, structural and dynamic brain changes, including research on adaptation or plasticity, resilience, and reserve are of particular interest, as well as interventions to maintain or gain function in older age. The Sensory Processes program supports studies on neural mechanisms of age- and/or disease-related alterations in visual, auditory, somatosensory, vestibular, and chemosensory functions. Research on disorders of the sensory systems, such as presbycusis or pain, are highlighted. To understand Motor Function, research is supported on proprioception, postural control and balance, neuromuscular function, sensory-motor integration, and movement disorders in aging, including Parkinson's disease. The relationship between sensory or motor dysfunction and age-related dementia is a developing area. Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience encompasses research on neural mechanisms of age-related change in cognitive processes, including learning, memory, attention, executive function, and language as well as the neurobiology of age-related changes in emotion. Prevention and treatment trials for age-related cognitive decline also are emphasized. Investigations of the neural underpinnings of delirium and post-operative cognitive decline are supported, including clinical trials for prevention and remediation. The relationship between delirium and dementia, as well as the distinction between age-related cognitive decline and pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease, are also of interest. DN, and this branch in particular, interact and collaborate with the NIA Division of Behavioral and Social Research, where psychological science and behavioral neuroscience converge, as well as with the NIA Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology, where aging of non-neural systems, geriatric syndromes, and central nervous system function converge.

Population Studies and Genetics

This branch fosters research aimed at understanding the contributions of population and genetics studies in brain aging and neurodegeneration. The Population Studies portfolio embraces research that examines the trajectory of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD). This may include direct measurements of morbidity levels in general populations and race/ethnic subpopulations; identification of potential risk and protective factors through longitudinal studies using biospecimens (blood, cerebrospinal fluid, CNS tissues); neuroimaging; and medical history data to better understand the etiology of MCI/AD/ADRD. The Genetics of Alzheimer's disease portfolio is aimed at discovery of therapeutic targets for AD by identification of regions in the genome conferring risk or protection and associated molecular pathways with clear link to the etiology of disease. Research focuses on discovery of novel genomic elements and their functional roles driving heterogeneity and pathogenesis of AD. Studies include assessment of genetic contribution/impact on disease progression and why some individuals who have risk factors escape AD. A major effort to harmonize phenotypic data across cohorts that are in the genetics portfolio is underway. The portfolio includes genome analysis by machine learning and functional genomics to delineate causal genetic variants and related biological mechanisms.

Translational Research

This branch supports the full spectrum of drug discovery and preclinical drug development from target discovery and validation through securing Investigational New Drug status for small molecules and biologics aimed at prevention, treatment, and management of individuals with or at-risk for cognitive decline and AD/ADRD. In addition to building a portfolio of novel therapeutics for a diverse set of therapeutic targets, the branch supports the development of translational infrastructure that operates under open-source, open-science principles to increase research rigor, reproducibility, and translatability. Central to the mission of the branch is providing support for integration of data science disciplines (such as systems and network biology, systems pharmacology, and translational bioinformatics) with experimental approaches throughout the translational process, including for the purposes of advancing drug repositioning and combination therapy development.

Clinical Interventions and Diagnostics

This branch supports research on the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and management of individuals with or at-risk for cognitive decline and AD/ADRD. The branch supports all stages of clinical development for pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions and combination therapies, as well as research on methods development and training for innovative trial design. The branch also supports research on diagnostics aimed at the development and evaluation of reliable and valid multidimensional diagnostic procedures and instruments including imaging, fluid and digital biomarkers, and clinical and neuropsychological instruments for diagnosis, progression, and response to treatment. A central goal is the maintenance and development of research infrastructure for clinical trials and biomarkers development, which includes the national network of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers.

This page last reviewed on March 26, 2021