Advancing the Health of an Aging Population: Friends of the NIA (FoNIA) Briefing 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 12.31.50 PMOn Friday, July 7, 2017, Friends of the National Institute on Aging (FoNIA) hosted its annual briefing on ‘Advancing the Health of an Aging Population.’ These briefings provide important updates on the groundbreaking research that is supported by the NIA to promote the health and well-being of older adults. While registration for this meeting is open to the public, it is most heavily attended by representatives of other aging-related organizations, advocacy groups, and staff of Senators and House Representatives.

In addition to a lecture by NIA Director, Richard J. Hodes, MD, and Deputy Director, Marie A. Bernard, MD, this year also featured a presentation by Penn Medicine’s David J. Irwin, MD, MSTR, assistant professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania and clinical neurologist at the Penn FTD Center. Dr. Irwin’s presentation titled “Bringing the microscope to clinic: improving the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders” discussed some of the current challenges of diagnosing Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions and how researchers at Penn and beyond are working to overcome these challenges through a variety of studies. Dr. Irwin also stressed the vital role that NIA and other institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) play in making this research possible.

 “As a junior investigator, this has been a very exciting time for me to start my career with a rapid advance in our understanding of the genetics and pathophysiology of AD and related conditions – these advances would not be possible without publicly-funded programs through the NIA, NINDS and other institutes at NIH,” said Dr. Irwin. “I am very enthusiastic and thankful to have the opportunity to help advocate for the mission of the NIA, as this directly leads to the improvement in the care of patients I treat with AD and related disorders.”

Full presentation slides:

Kathy Jedrziewski, PhD, Deputy Director of the Institute on Aging, is the current Chair of Friends of the NIA (FoNIA). For more information on FoNIA, click here

Full 2017 FoNIA Briefing Flyer


Friends of the National Institute on Aging (NIA)’s Annual Update on NIA Scientific Advances

Earlier this month, the Friends of the National Institute on Aging (FoNIA) participated in their annual NIA Scientific Advances Update to discuss the progress of ongoing and upcoming research projects in the field of aging. Topics include the basic biology of aging, neuroscience, behavioral and social research, and geriatrics and clinical gerontology. Richard J. Hodes, MD, Director of NIA, presented this year’s updates (slides provided below) and joined in the open discussion with FoNIA members and leadership from each NIA division. NIA Deputy Director, Marie A. Bernard, MD, was also in attendance.

“These meetings are a really great opportunity for us to hear about the latest advances in
aging research across the board and to discuss future initiatives with NIA leadership,”
explained Kathy Jedrziewski, PhD, Chair of FoNIA and Deputy Director of Penn’s
Institute on Aging.


The group will meet again early next year to discuss the NIA budget. In addition, FoNIA meets annually with National Institutes of Health Director, Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also host an annual educational briefing on the Hill.


Richard Hodes, MD, Director of NIA (left), Francis Collins, MD, PhS, Director of NIH (center), and Marie A. Bernard, MD, Deputy Director of NIA (right), with members of FoNIA at their last meeting.

For more information, visit:

FoNIA is a broad-based coalition of aging, disease, research, and patient groups that supports the mission of the NIA. FoNIA activities include advocating on behalf of the NIA and increasing public awareness about NIA’s work and its tremendous impact in the field of aging research. 


Penn Medicine Researchers and Collaborators Receive Nearly $11 Million NIH Grant to Launch a New Genomics Center on Alzheimer’s disease

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 2.36.40 PMPenn Medicine’s Gerard D. Schellenberg, PhD, a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Li-San Wang, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, along with investigators from Boston University, Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, the University of Miami, and the University of Indiana have been awarded a $10.8 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to launch their joint Coordinating Center for Genetics and Genomics of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is an exciting opportunity to apply new technologies to improve our understanding of the biological pathways underlying this devastating disease,” said Dr. Schellenberg, quoted in a Penn Medicine News Release. “The new center will stimulate collaborations between hundreds of U.S. and international Alzheimer’s genetics researchers by aggregating and analyzing very large data sets and sharing the results. This type of global interaction is needed if we are to make progress in solving this devastating illness.”

Drs. Schellenberg and Wang are no strangers to the genetics and genomics of Alzheimer’s and related neurodegenerative diseases. This new grant is just one of the projects in their recently introduced Penn Neurodegeneration Genomics Center (PNGC) which they co-direct. Other projects include the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium (ADGC), Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP), Consortium for Alzheimer’s Sequence Analysis (CASA), and NIA Genetics of Alzheimer’s Disease Data Storage Site (NIAGADS).

Read more:
Full Penn Medicine News Release
Feature in the Philadelphia Business Journal


NIA Director, Dr. Richard Hodes pays visit to Penn

Last month, President Obama announced an overall increase of two billion dollars to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, with more than $350 million of this specifically earmarked for Alzheimer’s research, the largest-ever annual increase in federal Alzheimer’s research funding. On the heels of this announcement, National Institute on Aging (NIA) Director, Dr. Richard J. Hodes, MD, paid a rare visit to the University of Pennsylvania to hear from Penn researchers and clinicians working in the fields of aging, neuroscience, and immunology.

Hodes spent day 1 with aging and neuroscience experts from the IOA and Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR). He participated in a series of round-table discussions wherein he offered advice, welcomed feedback on NIH/NIA funding processes and experiences, and learned about many of the different projects underway here at Penn.

The day began with a series of conversations with basic science researchers spanning a broad range of topics, including the genetics and basic biology of aging, featuring the work of Jerry Schellenberg, PhD, and Li-San Wang, PhD, in using the human genome to identify Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and Brad Johnson, MD, PhD, and colleagues in understanding the biological forces that influence the development of AD. Johnson’s lab in primarily interested in telomeres, the structures that cap the ends of chromosomes, and how human aging is influenced by their maintenance and dysfunction.

Additional topics included the IOA and CNDR’s focus on training the next generation of researchers at all levels. This discussion, led by Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA, highlighted the work of several graduate and MD, PhD, students, some of whom started their connection with the IOA and CNDR as early as high school or during their undergraduate years. A conversation about drug discovery rounded out the morning sessions.

The afternoon commenced with a discussion with researchers from Penn’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics and its work to improve public health economics and understand who in the population advanced directives should most be targeting, and more. Researchers from the Population Aging Research Center (PARC) and Penn’s NIA-funded P30 Center on the Demography and Economics of Aging also reviewed with Hodes their work in domestic and international factors in the demography and economics of aging including financial literacy and decision-making as well as ongoing studies involving their cohort of low-income communities in Africa to understand how aging is different in these populations.

The day concluded with presentations from Penn Nursing’s NewCourtland Center for Transitions and Health. Center representatives participating in the discussion shared their work focusing on cost and care of rehospitalization, ethical challenges in better understanding informed consent incentives, and more.

Two common themes that weaved their way through many of these discussions were the high importance the Penn placed on training the next generation of scientists and healthcare providers, and the benefit and impact of Pilot programs, a series of grants to provide seed funding for innovative research to junior faculty and young scientists, in launching research careers.

Of course, it is no surprise that the recent increase in the Alzheimer’s research budget was another popular subject. Many researchers outside of the Alzheimer’s realm questioned how, if at all, this may influence funding in their particular areas of research. In response, Dr. Hodes broadly recommended and stressed the importance of making any and all connections to Alzheimer’s and related dementias explicitly emphasized in upcoming proposals, without being misleading. With this in mind, he applauded the abundance of collaborations across centers here at Penn and strongly encouraged continuing down that path for future studies.

“I believe we presented Dr. Hodes with a close-up, in-depth look at a very broad and representative swath of all the aging and neuroscience research currently underway here at Penn that has the potential to influence our biological understanding of Alzheimer’s and related dementias now and into the future, and the clinical research and disease modifying therapies to help better treat, protect, and understand patients with AD and related dementias,” explained IOA Director, John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD. “We also reviewed Penn programs that focus on other key aspects of healthy aging and aging related demographic changes with the long term goal of improving the overall health of elders in our rapidly aging society.”