Guest Blog Post: Reducing Health Disparities and Enhancing Diversity in Aging Research

This is part of a series of guest NIMHD Insights blog posts where NIH Institute and Center Directors highlight initiatives, resources and funding opportunities relevant to minority health and health disparities research, and training at their Institutes. The goal of this guest blog series is to link NIMHD stakeholders to minority health and health disparities-related information and opportunities across NIH.

This post is from the director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA leads a broad scientific effort to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life. NIA is the primary federal agency supporting and conducting Alzheimer’s disease research.  

By Richard J. Hodes, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Aging

Dr. Richard J. Hodes

Dr. Richard J. Hodes

Reducing health disparities and increasing diversity in the research workforce are key priorities for the National Institute on Aging (NIA). As Director of the Institute for the past 25 years, I have seen enormous growth in NIA’s health disparities and diversity programs. We’re working to address the complex scientific questions of health disparities in aging-related diseases and conditions on a variety of fronts, including funding research into health disparities and aging and training a new, diverse generation of aging researchers.

Funding Health Disparities Research Related to Aging
In 2015, NIA staff and others, including Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, director of NIMHD and former National Advisory Council on Aging member, collaborated to develop and adopt the “NIA Health Disparities Research Framework” aiming to stimulate the study of environmental, sociocultural, behavioral, and biological factors that influence health disparities related to aging. Since then, our Office of Special Populations has developed a web portal and video to support researchers’ use of the Framework. Using it as a guide, since 2015, NIA has awarded over $100 million in research awards to explore health disparities related to aging. To learn more about NIA funding opportunities in health disparities research related to aging, visit the Framework or check out the opportunities below:

The NIA Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMARs), seek to decrease health disparities by supporting and mentoring researchers in minority aging, improving minority recruitment in research studies, creating culturally sensitive health measures, and increasing the effectiveness of interventions for special populations.

Training a Diverse Pool of Aging Researchers

Input from individuals from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and perspectives is fundamental to producing good science. At NIA’s Intramural Research Program in Baltimore, we have developed the Diversity in Aging Research Pipeline Program (DARPP) to expose underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged students to aging research and enhance their scientific skills.

Additionally, NIA’s Summer Internship Program gives high school, college, graduate, and medical students opportunities to develop skills in scientific research and hands-on experience working in aging research. In 2017, over 60% of the NIA summer interns were women, and over 70% belong to racial and ethnic minorities.

For junior faculty and researchers who are new to aging research, each summer NIA also hosts the Butler-Williams Scholars Program, which offers participants unique opportunities to learn more about the field. Researchers with an interest in health disparities research related to aging are encouraged to apply. The application period for next year’s program will open in late fall 2018.

Through these and other efforts, NIA is seeking to improve research in aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and related dementias by diversifying research studies and our scientific workforce. If you have any questions, please be in touch with us!

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