• May 9, 2012

    "The Weight of the Nation" documentary series and public awareness campaign by the cable network HBO, launching this week, features National Institutes of Health research showing how obesity affects the country's health and how interventions can turn the tide against obesity and its complications.

    The network, in consultation with NIH and other major health organizations, developed four documentaries focused on obesity. The project also includes a three-part HBO Family series for kids, 12 short features, a social media campaign, and a nationwide community-based campaign to mobilize action to move the country to a healthier weight.

    The films feature several NIH-funded clinical studies that have formed the basis of scientific evidence on the causes and consequences of being overweight or obese, including the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, and Bogalusa Heart Study. The DPP found that even moderate weight loss can help prevent type 2 diabetes. The CARDIA study measures changes in coronary heart disease risk factors. The Bogalusa Heart Study examines how cardiovascular disease develops over time.

    “If we don't take the obesity epidemic seriously as individuals and as a nation, we will pay a serious price,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who appears in all of the main documentaries in the series. “It's going to take diverse and rigorous research to understand the causes of obesity and to identify interventions that work in the real world. The results from federally funded research, as seen in these documentaries, can help to prevent and treat obesity and its complications.” More »

    For more information, go to NIH and the Weight of the Nation.

  • April 16, 2012

    The hippocampus, a brain region important to learning and memory, gradually loses volume as part of the normal aging process. This loss is significantly accelerated in older people with Alzheimer’s disease, especially if they have vascular problems or diabetes.   Now, an international team of researchers has identified four genes that may play a role in the age-related decline of hippocampal volume, a finding that may provide insight to risk for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Conducted in part by NIA-funded investigators, the study appeared online April 15, 2012, in Nature Genetics.

    The findings result from the combined analyses of several genome-wide association studies (GWAS) conducted in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia involving thousands of participants with and without Alzheimer’s disease. GWAS analyze DNA to identify specific genetic variations associated with particular diseases. The researchers located four gene risk factors on chromosome 12 that may play a role in age-related hippocampal decline.  

    The genes implicated in the findings are involved in cell death, brain development and plasticity, oxidative stress and enzymes targeted by diabetes medications—all of which may contribute to the brain’s vulnerability to Alzheimer’s. While we need to learn more about the complex interplay between genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other factors that influence its onset and progression, these genes findings on age-related declines in brain volume could lead to new approaches for the devastating hippocampal declines wrought by the disorder.

    Reference: Bis JC, et al. Common variants at 12q14 and12q24 are associated with hippocampal volume. Nature Genetics. doi:10.1038/ng.2237

  • April 13, 2012

    Plaques made up of abnormal deposits of beta-amyloid protein are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The toxic buildup begins when the beta-secretase enzyme (BACE), working in concert with a partner enzyme, snips a small fragment of amyloid precursor protein (APP) and releases beta-amyloid from the cell membrane of neurons.  The beta-amyloid can then gradually clump together to form the well-known plaques that may cause damage to brain cells. Now a new study primarily funded by NIA appearing in the April 10, 2012, issue of Nature Communications has revealed a previously unknown interaction between BACE and a large APP fragment called sAPPalpha that blocked the buildup of plaques in mice. The novel findings may lead to new therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s researchers.

    Scientists at the University of South Florida, Tampa, discovered that the sAPPalpha fragment, which is released from neurons at synapses (the tiny gap between neurons across which neurotransmitters travel during communication), interfered with BACE activities in mouse models with Alzheimer’s pathology. Increased levels of sAPPalpha blocked the ability of BACE to snip the APP protein and reduced levels of amyloid plaque buildup in the brains of the mice. Because lower than normal sAPPalpha levels are often found in people with Alzheimer’s, restoring or enhancing these levels may be one avenue to investigate for slowing onset or progression of the disorder.    

    Reference: Obregon D, et al. Soluble amyloid precursor protein-α modulates β-secretase activity and amyloid-β generation. Nature Communications. 2012 Apr 10;3:777. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1781.

  • March 30, 2012

    Registration is now open for the Symposium on Results for RC2 Project, to be held June 4, 2012 in the Natcher Auditorium on the NIH campus. The Symposium will be a presentation and discussion of progress and findings from the ARRA-funded Genome-wide Association Study and telomere analysis of 100,000 participants in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California HMO. Hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute on Aging, with support from the National Institute on Mental Health.

    June 4, 2012

    National Institutes of Health
    Natcher Auditorium, Building 45
    Bethesda, MD

    Sessions are open and free to NIH only, but capacity is limited. Register here.

    Symposium agenda (MS Word, 50K)

  • March 28, 2012, the health and wellness website for older adults from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has been expanded and updated. Jointly developed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine at NIH, NIHSeniorHealth now includes more menu choices, longer pages, and a new search feature that offers access to a wider range of senior-related health resources. Presented in an inviting, colorful, and easy-to-use format, this senior-friendly site features nearly 60 health topics, more than 150 open-captioned videos, as well as frequently asked questions, quizzes, and web training materials – all especially designed for boomers and their parents.

    Health information is one of the key topics that older adults search for online according to the Pew Research Center, and since its launch in 2003, NIHSeniorHealth has been an accessible source of reliable, up-to-date health information for adults 60 plus. Built to address cognitive and vision changes that commonly occur with age, NIHSeniorHealth includes senior-friendly features such as large type, simple navigation, and open-captioned videos that make the site especially easy for older adults to use.

    Current topics cover healthy aging, memory and mental health, medical care, caregiving, and safety issues. Visitors to the site can also learn about ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat aging-related diseases and conditions such as COPD, arthritis, cancer, and glaucoma. Coming soon are topics on prescription drug abuse, hip replacement surgery, and older driver safety.

    Visit the new NIHSeniorHealth at Be sure to sign up for free updates and forward a link to the site to older friends and relatives.

  • March 28, 2012

    The National Institute on Aging (NIA) Division of Behavioral and Social Research (BSR) is actively involved in the effort to fully understand and plan for the emerging costs of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This teleconference featured presentations by Peter Neumann and Pei-Jung Lin (Tufts Medical Center) on “Costs and Cost-Effectiveness in Alzheimer’s Disease” based on modeling of Medicare claims data, and by Michael Hurd (RAND Corporation) on “The Costs of Dementia” based on data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and The Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS), followed by general discussion. In addition to NIA staff from both BSR and the Division of Neuroscience, participants included staff from the Alzheimer’s Association, study collaborators, and other invited commentators.

  • March 22, 2012

    Men who smoked in middle age experienced more rapid cognitive decline with age than men who had never smoked, according to a recent article in Archives of General Psychiatry. Dr. Severine Sabia and colleagues examined data from the Whitehall II cohort study, a study of the social determinants of health among British civil servants, to find the association between smoking history and decline in multiple areas of cognition.

    Data were obtained from 5,099 men and 2,137 women, with an average age of 56 years at the first cognitive assessment. Smoking history was analyzed over 25 years and cognition was assessed over 10 years. Four areas were analyzed: memory, vocabulary, executive function, and global function, which was created using the average scores of all tests.

    Investigators reported three key findings. Men who were smokers at the time of the first cognitive test had more rapid cognitive decline than nonsmokers, and men who had only quit smoking in the past 10 years also showed greater cognitive decline. Men who stopped smoking more than 10 years ago, however, did not show more rapid cognitive decline than non-smokers.

    The investigators cautioned that data from this study could not be used to determine whether men displaying a more rapid cognitive decline would ultimately progress to dementia. They also noted that their results showed no association between smoking and cognitive decline in women.

    Reference: Sabia, S., et al., Impact of Smoking on Cognitive Decline in Early Old Age: The Whitehall II Cohort Study. Archives of General Psychiatry. Published online February 6, 2012.

  • March 22, 2012

    A new study in mice found that several days on a restricted diet helped in coping with the stress of surgery. The research, led by Dr. James Mitchell at the Harvard School of Public Health and supported in part by the NIA and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the NIH, points the way toward potential strategies for reducing surgical risks in people.

    When blood flow to an area stops during surgery and is then restored, the returning blood supply can cause tissue damage and dangerous inflammation. This process, called ischemia reperfusion, can lead to stroke, heart attack, and other serious medical problems.

    To mimic the effects of ischemia reperfusion after surgery, researchers used microvascular clamps to temporarily stop blood flow in or out of the mice’s kidneys. Mice fed a protein-free diet for 6 days to 2 weeks before surgery were found to have better kidney function and a higher survival rate than animals fed a normal diet of equivalent calories. Limiting certain essential amino acids also resulted in improved survival in mice. In addition, scientists found the effects of limiting amino acids could be mimicked by halofuginone, a drug that acts on a particular protein pathway involved in helping cells detect amino acid depletion. This result raises the possibility that similar drugs might one day be used before surgery.

    Past studies have found that dietary restriction—limiting food intake without causing malnutrition—can boost the body’s resistance to the stress of ischemia reperfusion.

    Reference: Peng, W., et al. Surgical Stress Resistance Induced by Single Amino Acid Deprivation Requires Gcn2 in Mice. Science Translational Medicine. 2012 Jan 25; 4(118): p.118ra11.

  • June 13, 2012

    NIH published a notice and a funding opportunity for administrative supplements to ongoing awards. The announcement now allows Administrative Supplement requests to be submitted electronically when the parent award’s activity code has transitioned to electronic submission and provides detailed instruction on the two kinds of electronic submission possible. Administrative Supplements to ongoing awards whose activity code has not yet transitioned to electronic submission (largely program projects and center awards) must continue to submit on paper using the PHS 398 form. And, though electronic submission is possible for other awards, all awards may still submit via paper using the PHS 398 form. Administrative Supplements to promote diversity in health-related research and to support re-entry into biomedical and behavioral research careers have been published now.

    For research awards (e.g., R01, P01, U01, U19, R03, R15, R21, R33, R34, R37) the National Institute on Aging (NIA) continues to accept Administrative Supplement applications to cover expenses pertaining to emergencies, or unpredictable cost changes, or to exploit an unexpected opportunity that fits within the funded scope of the work, or to take advantage of a new technology, or to cover unanticipated institutional increases in salaries. Administrative Supplements to Center awards (P30, P50) are also available for similar purposes. Only under exceptional circumstances are Administrative Supplements available for other kinds of award (training, fellowships, career development, scientific-meetings, and education- and resource-related activities). However, NIA stresses that funding for Administrative Supplements is very limited and strongly encourages investigators to contact their Program Officer prior to submitting the Administrative Supplement to check on available funds for the award. Investigators seeking support for Administrative Supplements to promote diversity in health-related research or to promote re-entry into biomedical and behavioral research careers should contact Dr. Chyren Hunter, the NIA Training Officer.

  • March 2, 2012

    On November 29–30, 2011, BSR convened a workshop to explore harmonization strategies for behavioral, social science, and genetic research. The workshop brought together harmonization experts, principal investigators on harmonization projects, and staff from BSR, the National Human Genome Research Institute, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Workshop participants reviewed harmonization basics, existing harmonization efforts and issues, enabling tools and technologies, and the immediate needs of BSR, with a particular focus on phenotype harmonization and the informatics associated with cataloguing studies and data. Discussions from the workshop were intended to guide BSR as it defines the scope and priorities for building a unified harmonization strategy for promoting research and genetic studies within its portfolio.

    The workshop report is now available.