In a recent InsideNIA blog post, Dr. Marie Bernard, NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity and former deputy director of NIA, highlighted research concepts recently approved by the National Advisory Council on Aging. While the clearance of a concept does not guarantee a future funding opportunity, the majority of NIA’s cleared concepts have historically become published funding opportunities. Four concepts were approved at the recent council meeting, including: (1) Diversifying the Therapeutic Pipeline for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias, (2) Renewal of the Caenorhabditis Intervention Testing Program, (3) Reissue of the Alzheimer’s Drug Development Program, and (4) Small Business Innovation Research Contract Topics.

In another InsideNIA blog post, Dr. Elizabeth Necka, Program Director in the Individual Behavioral Processes Branch of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research, explained why research on social isolation and loneliness is needed more than ever. COVID-19 magnified this critical issue of social isolation and loneliness among older adults and underscored the importance of rigorous research on the health impact of social isolation and loneliness as well as the development of interventions to prevent or address these conditions. Dr. Necka’s post includes resources to find more information on social isolation and loneliness, including research opportunities at NIA.

Research Highlights

A recent NIA-funded research study found that higher-than-normal levels of a type of tau protein, ptau217, were associated with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in a diverse group of study participants. The study used data from the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project, an NIA-funded community-based, longitudinal study of aging and dementia among older residents of northern Manhattan, more than half of whom self-identified as Hispanic or Black. Among all biomarkers studied, the team found that ptau217, rather than beta-amyloid, was the more accurate marker of Alzheimer’s disease in this diverse group of participants. These biomarkers may help physicians predict Alzheimer’s disease when combined with other techniques.

In a study using mouse models, NIA-supported researchers found that restoring protein production in the brain could help treat Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers tested whether a substance called ISRIB (integrated stress response inhibitor), which is known to restore protein production after cellular stress, could increase protein production and help improve memory in three mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. In all three models, mice that received daily ISRIB injections over several days performed better on memory tests. Future studies exploring how ISRIB works to improve memory could help researchers develop drugs that restore protein synthesis in the brain as effective treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease.

Nearly 14% of older adults with dementia are prescribed a combination of medicines affecting the central nervous system (CNS), according to another NIA-supported study. Taking combinations of CNS-active drugs can lead to an increased risk of falling, breathing issues, and heart problems. In addition, some CNS-active drugs can affect thinking and memory, a side effect that is especially troubling in people with dementia. As the number of adults living with dementia increases, better understanding of how these drugs are used, their effects, and associated risks could help health care providers and individuals living with dementia make safer, well-informed care decisions.

An NIA-funded study is exploring the use of decision-making tools embedded into electronic health record (EHR) systems to allow patients to choose complimentary and integrative pain treatments. Through the Mayo Clinic’s EHR system, surgery patients will be offered the chance to express interest in complementary health approaches in three categories: movement, physical, and relaxation. Researchers will assess whether patients who are offered non-medicine options experience less pain and recover more quickly from surgery. They will also assess patients’ anxiety after surgery and how much follow-up care they need. The research is part of the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative.  

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, funded in part by NIA, examines healthy life expectancy at age 60 (HALE60) and how it varies by world region, country, income, and gender. Researchers found that people in Europe, the Americas, and the Western Pacific had among the highest life expectancy at 60 (LE60) and HALE60. However, there were dramatic differences among countries within the same region. The differences were attributed to income levels, national health policies, cultural practices, and other factors. The report also found a clear gender gap across LE60 and HALE60, with women generally living longer than men in all regions. For more insights, please see an infographic from the Census Bureau that takes a closer look at these trends.

A first-in-human, Phase 1 trial assessing the safety and immunogenicity of an investigational universal influenza vaccine has begun at the NIH Clinical Center. Healthy participants 18 to 50 years old will receive either a licensed seasonal influenza vaccine or the experimental vaccine, FluMos-v1. FluMos-v1 was developed by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to stimulate antibodies against multiple influenza virus strains. So-called universal influenza vaccines could one day eliminate the need for annual vaccination by generating long-lasting antibodies to protect against many existing or emergent influenza virus strains.

Announcements

The NIH appointed  Dr. Marie Bernard as Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. In her new role, Dr. Bernard will lead NIH’s effort to promote diversity, inclusiveness, and equity throughout the biomedical research enterprise.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) released its 2021-2026 Strategic Plan: Investing in the Future of Neuroscience. The plan presents an overarching strategic framework to accelerate science to improve quality of life for all people with neurological disorders, and to ultimately prevent or cure these diseases.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) also released a new strategic plan for 2021-2025: Mapping a Pathway to Research on Whole Person Health. The plan details how NCCIH will continue to expand the Center’s activities while advancing new strategies and ideas, including the overarching concept of whole-person health and an increased focus on health promotion and restoration.

On June 5th, the NIH Office of AIDS Research joined colleagues worldwide to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the landmark 1981 CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which first recognized the disease later named AIDS. The NIH remains committed to supporting basic, clinical, and translational research to develop cutting-edge solutions for the ongoing challenges of the HIV epidemic.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published a final research plan on menopausal hormone therapy for the primary prevention of chronic conditions in postmenopausal persons.

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