Announcements

  • 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.

  • February 22, 2012

    Public input sought on detailed strategies for research, outreach, caregiver support

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released today an ambitious draft National Plan to overcome Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.  The draft National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease (http://aspe.hhs.gov/daltcp/napa/#DraftNatlPlan) offers specific action steps to accelerate research on treatment and prevention, as well as proposals for improving care, services, and support for patients, families, and caregivers. We look forward to receiving comments from the public on this proposed plan.

    As work on the draft plan continues, the Obama Administration announced that it is taking immediate action, making an additional $50 million available for cutting-edge Alzheimer’s research in fiscal year 2012. In addition, the President’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget boosts funding for Alzheimer’s research by $80 million.  The Administration’s announcement also includes an additional $26 million in caregiver support, provider education, public awareness and improvements in data infrastructure in 2012 and 2013.

    HHS is seeking comments on the draft National Plan to fully engage the Alzheimer’s disease community, the public, states, local governments, community based service organizations, the private sector and others in its development.  Public comment will be accepted through March 30, 2012 and should be e-mailed to napa@hhs.gov.

    Creating and maintaining an integrated national plan to overcome Alzheimer’s disease is part of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 4, 2011.

    The draft plan has five goals:

    1. Prevent and Effectively Treat Alzheimer’s Disease by 2025.
    2. Optimize Care Quality and Efficiency.
    3. Expand Supports for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Their Families
    4. Enhance Public Awareness and Engagement.
    5. Track Progress and Drive Improvement.

    These five goals, the supporting strategies and action steps proposed in the plan reflects input from the Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care, and Services (http://aspe.hhs.gov/daltcp/napa/#Council) and almost 100 public comments received on an initial framework for the draft.

    The Advisory Council was also created as part of the NAPA to help create and maintain a National Plan to overcome Alzheimer’s disease. It is a 27-member body made up of federal and state officials, along with representatives from private sector organizations involved in Alzheimer’s, including research, care, advocacy, and caregivers.

    As part of the public comment process, the draft National Plan will be reviewed and discussed at the next Advisory Council meeting March 14. For more information contact Helen Lamont at helen.lamont@hhs.gov.

  • January 18, 2012

    The neuropathology guidelines used since 1997 to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at autopsy have been updated to reflect a deeper understanding of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This will help pathologists characterize Alzheimer’s-related brain changes at death in people diagnosed with dementia and those who have not yet shown clinical symptoms. Further, the new guidelines recognize the importance of reporting pathology findings for all diseases that contribute to dementia—not just Alzheimer’s-related changes—and to correlate those findings with clinical symptoms. The effort was led by the NIA and the Alzheimer’s Association.

    Under the previous guidelines, a postmortem assessment was typically conducted in the brains of people diagnosed with clinical symptoms of dementia, and then only to determine whether Alzheimer’s pathology was an underlying cause of the dementia. The new criteria do not require a dementia diagnosis while the person was living, as studies suggest that Alzheimer’s develops years before it becomes clinically evident and research has revealed that the brains of cognitively normal people may have Alzheimer’s-related brain changes.

    The revised pathology criteria provide a framework for researchers and clinicians to:

    • Report in more specific detail the amount and location of Alzheimer’s-related pathology, such as abnormal brain proteins and lesions, even in people who appear free of dementia.
    • Identify other pathologies that may co-exist or be confused with Alzheimer’s disease and may contribute to cognitive decline.
    • In research settings, incorporate new tools—such as biomarkers and imaging—that may correlate with pathological changes in the brain.
    • Relate the pathology to the full continuum of Alzheimer’s disease, from the earliest “preclinical” stages, to mild cognitive impairment, to dementia due to Alzheimer’s pathology, as described in the recently updated Alzheimer’s diagnostic guidelines.

    References:

    Hyman BT, et al. National Institute on Aging–Alzheimer’s Association guidelines for the neuropathologic assessment of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2012 Jan;8(1):1-13.

    Montine TJ, et al. National Institute on Aging–Alzheimer’s Association guidelines for the neuropathologic assessment of Alzheimer’s disease: a practical approach. Acta Neuropathol. 2012 Jan; 123(1):1-11. Epub 2011 Nov 20.

  • February 13, 2012

    NIA has posted its Funding Line Policy for 2012.

  • January 1, 2012

    Patrick ShirdonIn January 2012, the NIA welcomed Patrick Shirdon as director for management. Mr. Shirdon will oversee business management functions involving human resources, budget, ethics, travel, procurement, space and facilities, and general administration. He takes over from Lynn Hellinger, who retired at the end of December.

    Mr. Shirdon comes to NIA from the National Institute of Mental Health, where he was executive officer. He is quite familiar, however, with the NIA and aging research—in 2004-2005, he served as budget officer at the Institute. Mr. Shirdon’s background in economics and business, experience well-suited to the fiscal and management challenges that NIA and all of NIH face in the near term. His aim in returning to NIA is to continue to improve NIA’s successful programs of research on health and aging, managing resources in efficient and innovative ways to support NIA’s scientific mission as the population ages.

    “I have been very interested in the science at the various institutes I have been part of. I think now is a particularly good time to be at the aging institute, as interest and importance in what we do is growing with the aging of the population,” Mr. Shirdon says. “The challenge is—how do we get the maximum return on our investment, how do we prioritize so that we can accomplish our mission to help improve quality of life and diminish disease with aging? I am excited to be at NIA.”

    Mr. Shirdon began his NIH career in the Office of Financial Management in 1992 and spent most of his career working in the NIH budget community. After his stint at NIA, he became deputy executive officer at NIMH in 2005 and in 2008 was promoted to lead that institute administratively.

    Mr. Shirdon earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a master’s degree in business management from Johns Hopkins University.

  • December 31, 2011

    Lynn C. HellingerLynn C. Hellinger, NIA’s director of management retired on December 31, 2011, after a decades-long career at NIH and as a federal manager. Ms. Hellinger was at the administrative helm of NIA since 2005, providing leadership on, workforce and strategic management, , budget, information technology, general administration , ethics, and all aspects of NIA’s overall operations.

    “We will greatly miss Lynn,” said NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes. “She is an accomplished and creative leader, with a deep understanding of how large organizations can and should function. She managed the enterprise both in detail and strategically. At NIH, Lynn was guided by her strong belief that excellence in administration supports the best science.”

    Ms. Hellinger leaves NIH after an extraordinary 26-year career, where she was known for navigating complex administrative challenges while maintaining excellent interpersonal relationships. She came to the campus in 1982 as a personnel staffing specialist in the Office of the Director. In 1988, she served as the deputy director of human resources and chief of operations for NIH’s Clinical Center, a 500-bed research hospital with 17 medical and service departments. Later, at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), after serving as director of NIAID’s human resources, she became associate director for management and operations. Ms. Hellinger led the effort post-September 11, 2001, to create an infrastructure of staff and buildings for biodefense research in a compressed time frame and at a height of national concerns about terror.

    Ms. Hellinger was also a leader in numerous NIH senior scientific and administrative executive management activities. She was co-chair of the Commercial Activities steering committee and the Administrative Management Systems steering committee. She also served as a key advisor to the NIH Deputy Director of Management through her membership on the Strategic Administrative Management Policy Committee; she also regularly chaired executive leadership searches for key positions at the NIH.

    Ms. Hellinger is particularly well-known and admired in the administrative community for her activities in building excellence in public service. She was and will remain a tireless mentor of young professionals in public administration and management. She served as the federal representative to the International Public Management Association's (IPMA) executive council and has served as president of the Montgomery County chapter and eastern region of the association.

    To cap these achievements, Ms. Hellinger in 2010 received the SES Presidential Meritorious Rank Award. One of the highest awards in public service, it recognizes senior career employees who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service. Ms. Hellinger was also the recipient of several NIH Director’s Award, for mentoring and other achievements. She also received several prestigious awards through the IPMA, including the Frank H. Densler Award and the Charles H. Cushman Award.

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