Researchers Seek Ways to Maintain Cognitive Health
BETHESDA, Md.—The Research Partnership in Cognitive Aging, a public-private partnership led by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation (MBFR), plans to award up to $28 million over five years to 17 research grants examining the causes of age-related cognitive decline, and possible interventions to prevent, reduce or reverse the situation. The basic research supported by these grants will focus on the molecular, cellular, physiological and behavioral aspects of healthy aging as well as the development and pilot testing of experimental, evidence-based interventions.
“We have made great strides in understanding how the brain and cognitive function change with age, identifying a number of avenues to explore in developing candidate therapies for improved cognition,” said Richard J. Hodes, M.D., director of NIA. “The challenge remains, however, to distinguish between the changes that come with normal aging and those that signal an unhealthy decline.”
Hodes noted emerging evidence suggests certain interventions—such as exercise, environmental enrichment, diet, social engagement, cognitive training and stress reduction—should be studied more intensively to determine if they might prevent or reduce declines in cognitive health. “These grants will make it possible for researchers to further pursue basic research in this area and to devise interventions that could be experimentally tested for their ability to improve cognitive function in older people,” he said.
Some of the research being funded under the partnership includes:
- An animal trial monitoring patterns of activity in the hippocampus, part of the brain important to learning and memory, to determine age-related changes in function.
- A one-year, randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial will examine whether dietary supplements of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) and blueberries can slow or prevent age-related cognitive decline in older adults. The study will assess changes in memory and daily functioning.
- A pilot trial in 90 older adults will evaluate whether cognition improves when aerobic exercise is combined with cognitive enrichment provided by a specific research-based video game. The randomized trial is aimed at finding an intervention to improve day-to-day cognitive function.
These grant awards stem from research objectives set at the Cognitive Aging Summit, an October 2007 conference on cutting-edge research on age-related brain and cognitive changes; a second summit is planned for fall 2010. “The summit created tremendous excitement among researchers about building a more collaborative approach toward profiling brain health and cognitive function across the lifespan and developing healthy cognitive aging interventions,” said J. Lee Dockery, M.D., MBRF board trustee. “Toward that end, these studies are designed so that investigators can readily compare measures and outcomes.”
The partnership is supported by NIA, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the MBRF through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), a nonprofit that seeks funding partners for a broad portfolio of groundbreaking programs and projects in support of biomedical research. Beyond primary support from the partnership, additional funding comes from NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).