We share the sadness of our community in mourning the loss of Mr. Eric Sokol, Vice President of Public Policy at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. In addition to his work with the Alzheimer’s Foundation and other organizations, Eric was a former executive board member of the Friends of NIA, a role in which he collaborated with many of you. A steadfastly bright, kind, and dedicated presence, Eric endeared himself to all he met. He will be missed tremendously.
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The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is seeking public comments to inform its work on improving care for persons at risk for or living with multiple chronic conditions (MCC). Specifically, AHRQ seeks comments on the current state of comprehensive, longitudinal, person-centered care planning for people at risk for or living with MCC across multiple settings of care (e.g., health systems, primary care, home, and other ambulatory practices), including existing models of person-centered care planning, their current scale, and barriers and facilitators to implementation. Responses must be submitted to MCC@ahrq.hhs.gov by November 15, 2022.
NIH will award over $200 million for potentially transformative biomedical research projects as part of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program. This program supports exceptionally creative scientists pursuing highly innovative and impactful research. With support from the NIH Common Fund, 103 new research grants will be awarded through the program, including eight Pioneer awards, 72 New Innovator awards, nine Transformative Research awards, and 14 Early Independence awards.
A new NIH initiative aims to systematically investigate and establish the function of every human gene. This initiative, the Molecular Phenotypes of Null Alleles in Cells (MorPhiC) program, will be managed by NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute. Through a multi-phase process, MorPhiC aims to generate a catalog detailing the function of each gene. Initial phase 1 funding is expected to total $42.5 million across five years.
NIH is soliciting applications in support of the Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS) Program’s Community-Led, Health Equity Structural Intervention (CHESI) Initiative. Under a recently released research opportunity announcement, community organizations will develop, implement, assess, and disseminate community-led, health equity structural interventions in partnership with a research organization. Letters of intent for this opportunity are due by 11:59 pm ET on November 18th.
On the NIH Director’s Blog, guest author Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, discussed the NIH RECOVER initiative to study and enhance recovery from long COVID. The long-term symptoms of COVID-19 can include debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath, pain, difficulty sleeping, racing heart rate, gastrointestinal symptoms, and cognitive problems. In response to the public health challenge of long COVID, NIH launched the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) initiative. RECOVER examines core questions such as why COVID-19 can have lingering effects, why new symptoms may develop, and what effects SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have on other diseases and conditions. The complex nature of long COVID necessitates a wide-ranging, rigorous, and collaborative research approach, which Dr. Koroshetz details further in his post.
On the blog of the NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD), COSWD Dr. Marie Bernard announced the inaugural UNITE Progress Report. UNITE was launched in 2021 to identify and address structural racism and racial inequities in biomedical research within the NIH-supported and greater scientific community. The publication of the first UNITE Progress Report is a critical milestone for the initiative and encompasses advancements on multiple fronts across fiscal years 2021–2022, including support for funding opportunities on the impact of structural racism on minority health and transformative research to address health disparities, the Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST), and The Power of an Inclusive Workplace Recognition Project. To learn more, please see Dr. Bernard’s full post.
On the Inside NIA Blog, Dr. Kenneth Santora, director of NIA’s Division of Extramural Activities, discussed the recent passage of a continuing resolution and its implications for the NIA budget. The continuing resolution, or CR, was signed into law on September 30th and funds the federal government at FY 2022 levels through December 16th. The CR means that NIA will be on a “flat budget,” based on FY 2022 appropriations, in order to maintain a cautious approach in spending until fiscal year 2023 budget allocations are finalized. Dr. Santora noted that NIA will continue to pay grants during the first quarter, but, as in the past, will do so conservatively while awaiting these final budget numbers. Dr. Santora encouraged readers to keep in touch with program officers for specific questions and to stay tuned for budget updates.
Also on the Inside NIA Blog, NIA deputy director Dr. Amy Kelley discussed NIA’s participation in the 2022 Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Annual Meeting, which will take place from November 2–6 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Kelley highlighted key sessions in which NIA leadership and program staff will participate, including pre-conference workshops on securing pilot research funding and resilience and aging; a session on demystifying NIH peer review; another for emerging scholars featuring alumni of the NIA Butler-Williams Scholars Program; another on lucidity in dementia; and two leadership symposia featuring NIA research and programmatic updates for both established and early-career researchers, respectively.
In another post to the Inside NIA Blog, Dr. Andrew Singleton, director of the NIH Center for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias (CARD), highlighted CARD’s building dedication and research advancements. CARD’s new home, the Roy Blunt Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Research, was recently dedicated. Dr. Singleton also provided updates on CARD research progress, noting its support for the largest-ever genome engineering project for human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), known as the iPSC Neurodegenerative Disease Initiative, or the iNDI project, and the launch of a new online portal for scientists to access a catalog of neurodegenerative disease human iPSC lines, including more than 100 variants associated with Alzheimer’s and related dementias across 73 genes. Lastly, Dr. Singleton noted a variety of training and employment opportunities at CARD, including for post-doctoral fellows, tenure-track investigators, and applicants for the Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Independent Scholars (ARDIS) program.
In a final post to the Inside NIA Blog, Dr. Akanni Clarke, program director in the NIA Division of Neuroscience, and Ms. Caroline Sferrazza, health specialist in the NIA Division of Neuroscience, provided new details and guidance on the NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing, or DMS. The DMS Policy will go into effect on January 25, 2023, and requires NIH grantees to develop a data management and sharing plan. Dr. Clarke and Ms. Sferrazza’s post outlines data sharing expectations, including submission through the eRA Commons and compliance with the approved DMS Plan throughout the duration of an award, as well as resources, including a DMS Policy FAQ and a newly launched scientific data sharing website with a tool to answer the question, Which Policies Apply to My Research?
NIA-funded research suggests that a daily multivitamin may improve cognition in older adults. Investigators tested whether administration of a daily multivitamin or daily cocoa extract supplement across three years would improve cognitive performance. To assess cognition, participants completed a battery of cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and once a year afterward. Results showed that those who took a daily multivitamin had higher scores of global cognition, memory, and processing speed than those who did not. The effect was most pronounced in those with cardiovascular disease. Cocoa extract had no effect on cognitive performance. These results suggest that a safe and affordable daily multivitamin might enhance cognition in older adults.
In a recent NIA-funded study, scientists showed how electronic medical records may be used to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease. The study used a big data approach known as integrative deep phenotyping to help map out and analyze the electronic medical records of over 44,000 people. Remarkably, data from people with Alzheimer’s showed a different pattern of clustering than those without the disease, with people with Alzheimer’s showing a heightened risk of hypertension, diabetes, anemia, osteoporosis, and urinary tract infections. The analysis also found differences between men and women with Alzheimer’s. Specifically, men appeared more likely to be diagnosed with neurological, sensory, and behavioral disorders. In contrast, women had more frequent diagnoses of arthritis, bone fractures, atrial fibrillations, and accidents. These findings support the use of electronic medical records to help scientists better understand the complex condition of Alzheimer’s and its associations with other conditions and traits.
Genetic factors that underlie depression may also drive Alzheimer’s disease, per findings from NIA-funded research. Investigators examined associations between depression and Alzheimer’s disease via an analysis of data from more than 1.2 million individuals who took part in genome-wide association studies (GWAS). The current investigation uniquely assessed multiple GWAS analyses, rather than only one. Results revealed a shared genetic risk between depression and Alzheimer’s, with a sub-analysis suggesting that genetic variants associated with depression raised the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. Investigators also studied the brains of individuals who participated in aging studies known as ROS/MAP and found that changes in the levels of two brain proteins, RAB27B and DDAH2, may underlie the genomic association between depression and Alzheimer’s. These findings might ultimately help investigators to develop drugs to treat both depression and dementia.
NIA-funded research shows that brain stimulation can affect memory in older adults. Investigators tested the hypothesis that the application of noninvasive, low-frequency stimulation to areas near the back of the brain would improve short-term memory, whereas high-frequency stimulation to areas near the front of the brain would improve long-term memory. In a sample of participants ages 65–88, the investigators applied such brain stimulation versus a “sham” control treatment. Those who received low-frequency stimulation to the back of the brain showed improved short-term, working memory, while those who received high-frequency stimulation to the same brain region showed no such improvement. In contrast, participants given high-frequency, but not low-frequency, stimulation to the front of the brain showed improved long-term memory. Further research is needed to assess the duration of such treatments and whether they have the potential to improve memory in those at risk for dementia.
A recent NIA research feature detailed what is known about the science of behavior change. For many people, living a long, healthy life can be attributed to adopting and maintaining healthy behaviors. NIA-funded researchers are looking at mechanisms that can help make behavioral interventions more successful for everyone. The piece defined behavioral interventions; detailed how scientists study mechanisms of behavior change; and discussed modifying behavior through self-regulation, stress reactivity and the role of coping in behavior change, improving behavior through social support and connectedness, tips to sustain behavior change, and forthcoming areas of research.
Leisure time activities may lower risk of death for older adults, according to NIH-funded research. Older adults who participate weekly in many different types of leisure time activities, such as walking, jogging, swimming, or playing tennis, showed lower risk of death from any cause, as well as lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to a new study led by researchers at NIH’s National Cancer Institute. The study used data from more than 272,000 adults ages 59–82 who completed questionnaires about their leisure activities as part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Achieving the recommended amount of physical activity each week through any combination of the activities was associated with a 13% lower risk of death from any cause compared with no participation. Similar findings were observed for cardiovascular and cancer-related mortality.
NIH-funded researchers have developed a new method to study brain connectivity and functionality. This method utilizes miniaturized organs, known as organoids, to examine brain processes in a much more detailed manner. Specifically, investigators demonstrated that a cortical organoid cultured from human stem cells could be transplanted and integrated into the developing rat brain to study certain developmental and functional processes. The full integration of organoids into the rat brains distinguished this method from earlier work, in which scientists had successfully modeled aspects of the human brain via organoids, but were unable to fully integrate them. The transplanted and integrated organoids mirrored the structural and functional features of human cortical neurons, suggesting that this model could perhaps one day be used to examine aspects of human disease processes.