KU Medical Center hosts National Institute on Aging Director’s Regional Meeting
November 05, 2018
By Kristi Birch
Researchers and community leaders from throughout the Midwest attended the Director's Regional Meeting of the National Institute on Aging (NIA), an Institute of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), Nov. 1, hosted by the University of Kansas Medical Center at the convention center at the University of Kansas Edwards campus in Overland Park.
The meeting provided a rare opportunity for scientists to hear directly from those charged with funding the work in their field. Researchers from the University of Kansas Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Health Professions were in attendance, as were investigators from throughout the region. This opportunity would not be possible without the national leadership of the University of Kansas Alzheimer's Disease Center (KU ADC), one of just 31 national Alzheimer's Disease Centers designated and funded by the NIA.
"It's an honor to be chosen as the site of this meeting, where leaders in Alzheimer's disease research from across the Midwest can come together to learn about the NIA's research and training opportunities and hear about the work others are doing in the field," said Russell Swerdlow, M.D., director of the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center.
As baby boomers age and the population of the United States trends older, the number of people with diseases associated with aging, including Alzheimer's disease, is expected to skyrocket. The resulting tremendous financial, physical and emotional burdens of these diseases make research and treatment critical.
During the one-day event organized with its Office of Special Populations, NIA senior staff and extramural division directors shared information on NIA research and training resources, technical assistance on grant writing, and advice on the design of new research proposals. "These regional meetings reflect a commitment on our part to interact with as many people as we can, both at the some of the leading academic research institutes such as at this university, but also with those in the region who may have less opportunity to interact with NIA staff," Robert J. Hodes., M.D., director of the NIA, told the attendees. "Our primary goal is to give you chance to be more familiar with and comfortable with us so that we support the research all of you are doing and need to do to pursue our common mission, which is improving health as it relates to aging."
Hodes noted that for fiscal year 2019, the NIH increased the NIA's budget by $425 million for Alzheimer's disease and related dementia's research, a reflection of the magnitude of this public health emergency. The sharp increase in the NIA's budget, which has tripled since fiscal year 2013, has made it possible for one-quarter of awards to go to new or early-stage investigators, "who bring new talent with them," Hodes said. He also pointed out that funding can be used to support not those directly in Alzheimer's or aging research, but who conduct scientific research that still contributes to the field.
"KU Medical Center already enjoys a productive relationship with the NIA, with more than $10.9 million in current, active funding for fiscal year 2019," said Robert D. Simari, M.D., executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center. "While a significant amount of that figure is affiliated with our Alzheimer's Disease Center, we have researchers from the School of Health Professions, the School of Nursing, and the Neurology Department within the School of Medicine who also are currently receiving funding."
In addition, directors from various NIA divisions also spoke about research innovations in their areas. John Haaga, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research, posed questions exploring why improvement in mortality rates and life expectancy has been slower for the United States than other rich countries, and why life expectancy at birth in the United States lags behind Costa Rica and Slovenia, which spend less on health and biomedical research. Felipe Sierra, Ph.D., director of the Division of Aging Biology at the NIA, presented happenings in the field of Geroscience as well as the overall hypothesis that by decreasing the rate of aging, the rate of incidence of major diseases can also be decreased, since the aging process increases the risk of many diseases.
"The great thing about meetings like this is that they get everyone at every level in the field—established researchers and scientists just starting out—together and talking, said Jeffrey Burns, M.D., co-director of the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center. "It helps energize the field."