On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, Eliezer Masliah, MD*, Director of the National Institute on Aging’s (NIA) Division of Neuroscience, paid a visit to the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute on Aging (IOA), Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR), and Penn Neurodegeneration Genomics Center (PNGC).
The reason for Dr. Masliah’s visit was not just to learn about the neurodegenerative disease and aging-related research that is taking place in these centers here at Penn, but also to see how they all collaborate and work toward mutual goals. This gave him the opportunity to see firsthand how NIA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding is being used and made worthwhile to support the groundbreaking work of these centers.
Several topics were covered during the visit including the inception and mission of the new Penn Neurodegeneration Genomics Center (PNGC), directed by Gerard D. Schellenberg, PhD, and its five NIH-funded projects, the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium (ADGC), Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP), Consortium for Alzheimer’s Sequence Analysis (CASA), Center for Genetics and Genomics of Alzheimer’s Disease (CGAD), and the NIA Genetics of Alzheimer’s Disease Data Storage Site (NIAGADS). Dr. Schellenberg and other PNGC members, including co-director Li-San Wang, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and principal investigator of NIAGADS, presented some of the current work and future plans for PNGC to achieve their overarching goal to “completely resolve the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease.”
After the morning session, Dr. Masliah joined John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, Director of the IOA, and Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, Director of CNDR, with several of their lab members as well as several Penn faculty working in neurodegeneration, for an open discussion on the multidisciplinary approach of the IOA and CNDR. A key feature of these centers is their ability to collaborate across many different disciplines within the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. This includes faculty members from several different departments such as Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Neurology, Psychiatry, Geriatric Medicine, and Epidemiology to name a few.
Among the many topics discussed, one that was of particular interest to Dr. Masliah was the large number of young investigators and finding out what it was that attracted them to Penn. Many of the lab members were eager to participate and to share their outlook on why Penn was the right place to start their research career. Overall, they agreed that the collaborative, multidisciplinary nature of these centers is what appealed to them most. They also praised Penn for its training and the encouraging environment that it provides for applying for research grants and other funding opportunities. Additionally, Penn is well known for its state of the art databases and data sharing, providing top-notch integration and access to resources for its investigators. Dr. Masliah was especially impressed with CNDR’s Integrative Neurodegenerative Disease Database (INDD) which tracks nearly 17,000 patients and/or research subjects at Penn’s several neurodegenerative disease related centers.
The visit concluded with a lecture by Dr. Masliah, titled “Advancing the National Plan to Address AD through National and International Collaborations.” During his talk, Dr. Masliah discussed the recent $2 billion NIH budget increase which includes $400 million new Alzheimer’s disease funds, new NINDS funding opportunities in partnership with NIA on Lewy body dementia (LDB), and the 17 new Alzheimer’s disease FOA’s.
In terms of what to expect for the future, Dr. Masliah says to stay tuned for changes in pay-lines for FY17, more funding for fellowship and K awards, and more funded FOA’s and 27 new FOA’s.
* In his position as the Director of the NIA’s Division of Neuroscience, Dr. Masliah oversees the world’s largest research program on Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias and cognitive aging. He is an internationally renowned neuroscientist and neuropathologist and has approximately 800 original research articles and 70 book chapters.