National Institute on Aging (NIA)


Since 1974, the mission of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has been to improve the health and well-being of older Americans through biomedical, social, and behavioral research.

The Institute conducts and supports research on aging through extramural and intramural programs, focusing on aging processes, age-related diseases, and special problems and needs of the aged. The extramural program funds research and training at universities, hospitals, medical centers, and other public and private organizations nationwide. The intramural program conducts basic and clinical research in Baltimore and on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. NIA also has a broad information program to communicate about research and health with older people, their families, health professionals, researchers, policymakers, and others.

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 allow 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 (SWAN) is launched to characterize in diverse populations the biological and psychosocial influences related to the transition to menopause.

1995 — 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 to engage in exercise.

1997 — The Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMARs) 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 — The Institute 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 National Library of Medicine (NLM) launch, a website designed to encourage older people to use the internet.

NIA, joined by the Alzheimer's Association, expands the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Initiative to create a large bank of genetic materials and cell lines for study to speed up the discovery of risk-factor genes for late-onset Alzheimer's disease.

NIA and the American Federation for Aging Research — in collaboration with the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the 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 (HANDLS), 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 — A Biology of Aging Summit convenes to review NIA's research portfolio, identify areas of opportunity, and facilitate formulation of comprehensive research plans for the future.

Longitudinal Study of Aging is developed to examine what factors preserve physical and cognitive Insights into the Determinants of Exceptional Aging and Longevity (IDEAL), a sub-study of the Baltimore function in late life and 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.

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 to promote exercise and physical activity nationwide for people 50 and older, with public and private partners from a variety of aging, fitness, and provider organizations.

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 is signed into law. Dubbed NAPA, it 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.

The Trans-NIH GeroScience Interest Group is formed, with leadership from the NIA. 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 — to Effectively Treat or Prevent Alzheimer’s by 2025.

The NIA Intramural Research Program (IRP) is reorganized to recognize new paradigms in the field of aging research. The program now integrates labs and resources bringing together people who share a similar research interest but are coming at it 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 recommendations aimed at advancing Alzheimer’s disease research.

The International Alzheimer’s Disease Research Portfolio is launched. Built 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. Unveiled in 2012, the Toolbox offers researchers a free set of brief tests to assess cognitive, sensory, motor and emotional function in people from toddlers to older adults.

2013 — NIA holds The Robert N. Butler Memorial Lecture to honor its founding Director, Dr. Robert N. Butler, 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 today. The lecture was presented by NIA grantee Dr. Ronald Petersen of the Mayo Clinic, with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease, a research priority of Dr. Butler. Dr. Butler died at age 83 on Independence Day, July 4, 2010.

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

The 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. Recommendations from the meeting will guide scientific research in these areas over the next decade.

The Trans-NIH Geroscience Interest Group (GSIG) holds the research summit “Advances in Geroscience: Impacts on Healthspan and Chronic Disease.” Organized by the GSIG with leadership from the NIA, this important conference was co-sponsored with the Alliance for Aging Research and the Gerontological Society of America, with additional private sector support provided by companies and organizations through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH).

The NIH, with NIA leadership, leads U.S. participation in a new international effort to address Alzheimer’s disease research and care. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and NIA Director Dr. Richard Hodes are part of a delegation attending the G-8 Dementia Summit in London, the goal of which is to develop a coordinated global strategy to address the growing global burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). The U.S. will host one of four G-8 Dementia Legacy Meetings in February 2015 on the NIH campus.

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

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

The 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, made by the NIA and funded by PCORI as part of the Falls Injuries Prevention Partnership of the two organizations, 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 — The NIA develops the first-ever Professional Judgement 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, the so-called “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 the inaugural 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.

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

Richard J. Hodes, M.D., directs the research program of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health. A leading immunologist, Dr. Hodes was named Director of the NIA in 1993, to oversee studies of the basic, clinical, epidemiological, and social aspects of aging.

Under Dr. Hodes' stewardship, the NIA budget has surpassed $1.5 billion, reflecting increased public interest in aging as America and the world grow older.  Dr. Hodes has devoted his tenure to the development of a strong, diverse, and balanced research program, focusing on the genetics and biology of aging; basic and clinical studies aimed at reducing disease and disability, including Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive change; and investigation of the behavioral and social aspects of aging.  Ultimately, these efforts have one goal—improving the health and quality of life for older people and their families.

Dr. Hodes is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine.  In 1995, he was elected as a member of The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives; in 1997, he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and in 1999, he was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Hodes is a graduate of Yale University and 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, he 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)
The overall goals of LCS are: 1) to identify age associated changes that occur within the cardiovascular system and to determine the mechanisms for these changes; 2) to determine how aging of the heart and vasculature interacts with chronic disease states to enhance the risk for CV diseases in older persons; 3) to study basic mechanisms in excitation-contraction coupling and how these are modulated by surface receptor signaling pathways in cardiac cells; 4) to elucidate mechanisms of pacemaker activity in sinoatrial nodal cells; 5) to elucidate mechanisms that govern cardiac and vascular cell survival; and 6) to 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 particular 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. LMBI programs contain 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 shares a close working relationship with the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging that enables 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.  Investigators in the LCI 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 and aging; molecular and cellular changes with osteoarthritis; metabolic causes of neurodegeneration; alterations in drug metabolism with age, 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)
Research in LEPS investigates the causes and consequences of disease and function-specific outcomes that are highly prevalent in the population, including health disparities. The laboratory takes a multi-modality and multi-disciplinary approach that is applied in population-based cohorts developed by LEPS scientists in collaboration with other intra-mural and with extra-mural investigators.  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, we actively investigate state-of-the-art objective measures that can be applied to population-based samples.

Laboratory of Genetics (LG)
The mission of the LG is to understand the genetic and genomic determinants of aging.  The Laboratory investigates 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).  Specific goals of the LG include (1) identifying cohorts of genes and mechanisms involved in the development of select non-renewable, and hence aging-prone, 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 impact upon the normal physiologic decline of aging and the aberrant gene expression programs in age-associated disease.

Laboratory of Molecular Gerontology (LMG)
The LMG investigates processes and mechanisms such as 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 molecular change with aging.  The Oxidative DNA Damage Processing and Mitochondrial Functions Unit investigates accumulation of DNA damage with aging leads to senescence, mitochondrial dysfunction and age-associated disease.  The DNA Repair section investigates the role of human premature aging proteins in preventing early aging.  The Repair of Endogenous DNA Damage Section investigates the mechanism involved in base excision repair and the function of individual DNA repair proteins and their interaction.  The Telomere Maintenance and DNA Repair Unit studies proteins and functions involved in the maintenance of the chromosome ends, the telomeres.  The Gene Targeting Unit is exploring how DNA interstrand crosslinks, very detrimental to cells, are removed from DNA and how this relates to age-associated disease.  The Section on DNA Helicases focuses on the roles of DNA helicases in genomic stability.  The LMG investigates mechanisms and conducts translational and intervention studies.

Laboratory of Neurogenetics (LNG)
The LNG studies neurodegenerative diseases based on a resolution of their genetic etiology.  The Molecular Genetics Section is focused on finding genes for neurodegenerative disease; the Cell Biology & Gene Expression Section seeks to develop an understanding of the effects of mutant genes on cell physiology; the Transgenic Unit examines the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders in whole animals and to test potential treatments for the diseases; and the Neuromuscular Disease Research Unit works toward an understanding of the genetic basis of neuromuscular disorders.  Underpinning this structure are 3 groups: a Clinical Core whose role is to identify patients with neurological disorders and facilitate collaborations with clinical investigators from around the world, a Computational Biology Core whose role is 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, and a Genomic Technologies Group whose role is to leverage and support the most recent genomic approaches.

Laboratory of Neurosciences (LNS)
The LNS seeks to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of neural plasticity during aging and to develop novel interventions for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's diseases, as well as stroke.  The LNS has a particular focus on signal transduction pathways that control the development and adult plasticity of nerve cell circuits, and how these pathways are affected by dietary energy intake and exercise in the contexts of aging and neurological disorders.  Examples include: mechanisms regulating neurogenesis and the integration of newly generated neurons into existing neuronal circuits; neurotrophic factor signaling; adaptive stress response pathways; cellular calcium homeostasis; and pathways that regulate neuronal bioenergetics.  Using animal models and studies of human subjects LNS investigators are discovering how factors such as dietary energy intake and exercise affect the brain during aging, and they are developing and testing novel interventions designed to optimize brain function throughout the lifespan.

Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience (LBN)
The 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 and age-associated changes in behavior, predispositions, and brain-behavior associations; identifies early markers of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline; examines factors that promote the maintenance of cognitive health;  develops and validates blood-based and imaging biomarkers of age-related neurodegeneration to inform diagnosis and the testing of potential therapeutic interventions.  Laboratory investigators employ a variety of approaches, including experimental, longitudinal, neuroimaging, biomarker, neuropathological, electrophysical, anatomical, molecular and genetic methods in the analysis of biological and psychological aspects of aging

Translational Gerontology Branch (TGB)
The research efforts of TGB are focused on improving the health and wellbeing of the elderly population through epidemiological, clinical, and basic research programs, with a special emphasis on longitudinal observations and intervention studies.  The TGB is investigating and developing novel strategies and interventions to support healthy aging and the prevention, or delay, of functional decline and age-related diseases.  The main research goals of the TGB 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.

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, and committee management functions.  It serves as primary liaison for NIA with the NIH Office of Extramural Research and with other Institutes that share research interests.  NIA's extramural training programs, career development programs, small business initiatives, and other special programs are managed by DEA.  The Division handles scientific integrity and ethical questions in research and manages the National Advisory Council on Aging.

The Scientific Review Branch (SRB) conducts initial peer review of specific research applications assigned to the NIA.  These include applications for Centers, program projects, scientific meetings, and training and career development as well as applications responding to initiatives published by NIA. External peer reviewers conduct the reviews.

The Grants and Contracts Management Branch (GCMB) 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.

National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA)

Congress created the National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA) "to advise, consult with, and make recommendations to the Secretary, HHS, 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."

The NACA consists of 18 members appointed by the HHS Secretary and 5 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.  The NACA meets 3 times each year.

Division of Aging Biology (DAB)

The DAB plans and supports molecular, cellular, genetic 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.  The overall goal is to provide a basis in basic biology for preventative and interventional strategies to increase resilience and extend healthy aging.  The 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, with rodent models of particular interest.

Biological Resources manages biological resources through contracts.  It coordinates the aged non-human primate resources and the Intervention Testing Program (ITP), a multi-institutional study conducting research on non-genetic interventions to delay aging in a mouse model.

Cardiovascular Biology supports investigations on the molecular and cellular changes that lead to age-related declines in cardiac and vascular function, and on mechanisms and factors that reverse or slow these aging processes.

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

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 genes and pathways affecting longevity; genome stability; telomere biology; genomics; epigenomics; and progeroid syndromes, all in relation to healthy aging.

Immunology supports studies on changes in the immune systems of older people that 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; free radicals and oxidative stress affect lifespan.

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.).

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

Tissue Physiology supports investigation of age-related changes that affect the function of liver, digestive, renal, and pulmonary systems.

The Trans-NIH Geroscience Interest Group (GSIG) is chaired by DAB and includes representation from 20 NIH Institutes and Centers.  The GSIG is a collaborative framework which promotes identification of innovative approaches to better understand the relationships between the biological processes of aging and age-related chronic diseases and disabilities.  The GSIG aims to accelerate and coordinate efforts to promote further discoveries on the common risks and mechanisms behind such diseases, with the goal of resolving health problems among our increasingly older population.

Division of Behavioral and Social Research (BSR)

BSR supports research and research training on the processes of aging at both the individual and societal level.  It focuses on how people change over the adult life course and on the societal impact of the changing age composition of the population.  BSR fosters research that reaches across disciplinary boundaries, from genetics to comparisons across national populations, and across stages from basic through translational.

BSR has two branches, with substantial interactions between them:

The Individual Behavioral Processes Branch supports research on biopsychosocial processes linking health and behavior, emotional and cognitive functioning, human factors, and integrative approaches to the study of social, psychological, genetic, and physiological influences on health and well-being over the life course.  Vertically integrated studies that run from basic to applied are encouraged, as well as translation in some specific areas.

  • Behavior Change and Behavioral Interventions focuses on the dynamic interrelationships among aging, health, and behavior, adding an aging perspective to observational studies and interventions dealing with development and maintenance of a wide range of health and illness behaviors.  Major research topics include: (1) mechanisms of behavior change; (2) behavior change and lifestyle interventions; (3) disease recognition, coping, and management including physiological consequences of life stresses and burdens; and (4) social, behavioral, and environmental interventions for health promotion, disease prevention, and disability postponement.
  • Behavioral and Population Genetics of Aging focuses on (1) genetics and genomics of social behavior and social environments; (2) understanding genetic and genomic influences linking social and behavioral processes with aging outcomes; and (3) understanding the social and environmental contexts in which genetic and genomic factors are expressed and influence social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of aging.  This work includes the integration of genetic methods into population-based research and population genetics of aging. Approaches of interest include quantitative and molecular genetic analysis; epigenetic and gene expression studies; and discordant twin designs.
  • Cognitive Aging supports studies on changes in cognitive functioning over the life course.  Studies are encouraged that: (1) examine the influence of contexts (behavioral, social, cultural, and technological) on the cognitive functioning of aging persons; (2) investigate the effects of age-related changes in cognition on activities of daily living, social relationships, and health status; and (3) develop strategies for improving everyday functioning through cognitive interventions.  Major topics include higher-order cognitive processes (such as executive function, problem-solving, decision-making, consumer behavior, driving, and health literacy), memory strategies, perceptual skills, and reading and speech comprehension.  Research also explores the role of individual differences in cognitive functioning (e.g., motivation, self-efficacy, beliefs about aging, emotions, sensory limitations, experience, and expertise) and health disparities. BSR collaborates with the NIA Division of Neuroscience to encourage research at the intersection of behavior and neurocognition.
  • Psychological Development and Integrative Science applies an integrative and life course approach to the study of psychological and behavioral aging.  Topics include: personality, emotion, subjective well-being, motivation, self-regulation, social behaviors, social relationships, social cognition, stress and resilience.  This includes research combining multiple levels of analysis (e.g., psychological, behavioral, social, neurobiological, neuroendocrine, genetic) and examines reciprocal interactions among these levels, as in the areas of social and affective neuroscience; decision sciences and neuroeconomics; health psychology and psychosomatic medicine.
  • Family and Interpersonal Relationships supports research focusing on family and interpersonal relationships at an individual and dyadic level.  Areas of interest include associations between marital and other interpersonal relationships with health and wellbeing; the role of the family and social network on individual health behavior and compliance; the role that friends and siblings play in healthy aging; the development of interpersonal relationships over the lifespan; and intergenerational transmission of social behaviors.  Comparative studies and studies that take a lifespan perspective are encouraged.

The Population and Social Processes Branch supports research and research training on the causes and consequences of changes in social, demographic, economic, and health characteristics of the older population.  Research is supported on the effects of public policies, social institutions, and health care settings on health, well-being, and functioning — both over the life course and in later years.  International and comparative studies are encouraged. Interdisciplinary and multi-level research is strongly encouraged.

  • Demography and Epidemiology fosters research on trends in functioning, disability, morbidity, and mortality; age trajectories of health; life expectancy and active life expectancy; causes and consequences of changes in the age structure of populations; interactions between health and socioeconomic status over time and across generations; the effect on health of social networks and social contexts; interrelationships between work, family, and health; and the dynamics of disability and frailty.
  • Health and Economics of Aging encourages research on the reciprocal relationships between health and work at older ages; consequences of retirement for health and functioning; effects of aging on economic behaviors; health insurance and health care expenditures; interrelationships between health and economic status; the costs of disability; and interventions drawing on insights from behavioral economics to improve the health and well-being of the elderly.  Research also deals with income security of future retirees and determinants of retirement and saving, as they affect the health of aging populations.
  • Health and Long-term Care Systems encourages research on the impact of formal health care and long-term care systems on the health and well-being of older persons.  Topics include transitions among settings; hospital-level and regional differences in intensity of care, and end-of-life care trajectories.

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 three branches, this division 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 division's highest priorities.

The Neurobiology of Aging Branch fosters research aimed at understanding how the nervous system is affected by normal as well as pathological aging.  Fundamental Neuroscience supports studies on age-related structural and functional changes in brain, including mechanisms of selective vulnerability and plasticity of neural cells, synapses and circuits to neurodegeneration.  Research is supported on the role of neuroglia, oxidative stress, mitochondria, protein homeostasis, and neural stem cells in brain aging. Basic Science of Alzheimer’s Disease supports examination of molecular, cellular, synaptic and circuitry changes, inflammatory, and cerebrovascular aspects involved in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias of aging, and neurodegenerative diseases associated with unconventional agents (e.g. prions).   In Integrative Neurobiology, the focus is on neural mechanisms underlying age-related changes between organ systems and the CNS, in endocrine and immune functions, and in 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 effects in the aged.

The Dementias of Aging Branch supports studies of genetics, epidemiology, clinical course, diagnosis and assessment, drug discovery and development, and clinical interventions in the dementias of later life, especially Alzheimer's disease. Translational Studies are supported in the area of drug discovery, preclinical therapy development, and systems biology approaches to identification and validation of therapeutic targets for drug development.  Population Studies are supported in the epidemiology of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer's disease.  Clinical Studies focus on the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and management of individuals with or at-risk for cognitive decline, MCI, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.  Research on diagnostics is aimed at the development and evaluation of reliable and valid multidimensional diagnostic procedures and instruments including imaging and other biomarkers and clinical and neuropsychological instruments for diagnosis, progression, and response to treatment.  Research in the treatment and management of the earliest pathological changes of cognitive dysfunction, MCI, AD, and other dementias seeks to develop the understanding required to slow their course, treat and manage the cognitive and behavioral manifestations, and, ultimately, to delay the onset of and to prevent them.  Approaches include clinical trials of pharmacologic agents, behavioral, and environmental interventions, as well as preclinical drug discovery and development studies leading to novel compounds for prevention and treatment of these disorders.  The maintenance of a research infrastructure is critical, and the Research Centers component of this branch supports Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers and Alzheimer's Disease Center Core programs, that provide a multifaceted approach to research, training, and educational activities on Alzheimer's disease and several multi-center collaborative research projects.

The Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Branch emphasizes research on the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying age-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.  A focus on Sensory Processes supports studies on mechanisms of normal aging and disease-related alterations in visual, auditory, somatosensory, vestibular, and chemosensory functions.  In an effort to understand Motor Function, research is supported on proprioception, postural control, neuromuscular function, sensory motor integration, vestibular, 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 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.  The Division of Neuroscience and this branch, in particular, interact and collaborate with the Division of Behavioral and Social Research where psychological science and behavioral neuroscience converge, as well as with the Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology where aging of non-neural systems, geriatric syndromes, and CNS function converge.

This page last reviewed on March 1, 2017