Congressional Briefing Explores Groundbreaking Research on the Health of the Aging

On June 30, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in collaboration with Friends of the National Institute on Aging (FoNIA) hosted an educational briefing on Capitol Hill on “Advancing the health of an aging population: Groundbreaking Research Supported by the NIA.FoNIA is a broad-based coalition of aging, disease, research, and patient groups that supports the mission of the Institute; COSSA is a longstanding member. The briefing continues the series of annual FoNIA Congressional briefings designed to share the latest aging research with Congress and its staff. Presenters included NIA Director Richard Hodes; NIA Deputy Director Marie A. Bernard; Corey T. McMillan, University of Pennsylvania; and Peter M. Abadir, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Hodes noted that America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double from 48 million to 88 million by 2050. At the same time, global life expectancy is projected to grow by nearly eight years from 66.6 years in 2015 to 76.2 years in 2050. Globally, the population aged 80 and older is expected to triple from 126.5 million to 446.6 million by 2050.

Dr. Bernard highlighted “real world” research and findings, including a randomized trial examining financial-incentive programs geared towards smoking cessation; the SPRINT Study (Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial) which tests whether a “treatment program aimed at reducing systolic blood pressure to a lower goal than currently recommended will reduce cardiovascular disease risk;” behavioral interventions designed to improve inappropriate antibiotic prescribing by physicians; diet and/or exercise to treat heart failure; and CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Longterm Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy), the first human trial of long-term calorie restriction on effects on aging-related outcomes. She underscored the need for older adults to participate in research and urged attendees to encourage older adults and family caregivers to participate.

Dr. Abadir discussed training the next generation of researchers in aging. Echoing Hodes, Abadir highlighted the rapidly aging U.S. population, emphasizing that the “prevalence of disease disproportionally affecting older people will increase.” To complicate matters, fewer young investigators are entering the aging research pipeline, where the average age of first-time investigator-initiated research grant recipients is 42. He pointed out that it is difficult for early-stage investigators to move into independent research positions for varied reasons such as the aging of the biomedical research workforce, fewer available faculty positions, a fiscally challenging time, the hypercompetitive funding environment, and longer postdoctoral fellowships, among others. According to Abadir, this environment is discouraging to early stage investigators, and as a result, fewer newcomers are carrying out innovative and creative ideas. It also means that there are fewer mentors and groundbreaking discoveries to prevent, diagnose, and treat illnesses associated with aging. He argued that specific training and career development programs, mentorships, actions to reduce the burden associated with educational debt, additional research grant opportunities for early-stage investigators, and sufficient federal funding in the aging research field are all needed to successfully recruit and retain the next generation of researchers in aging.

Lastly, Dr. McMillan discussed precision medicine approaches for treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. He noted the consequences of not detecting comorbid diseases, including caregiver and patient frustration, delayed diagnosis, increased risk of dementia, risk of drug interactions, and failed clinical trials. However, the benefits of pursuing precision medicine approaches allow the consequences of comorbid disease to be addressed and biomarkers developed to detect underlying cause and comorbid disease. Additionally, earlier intervention of accurately diagnosed pathology or pathologies have greater likelihood for successful treatments.

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