Now Recruiting Healthy Seniors Age 20 and Older
Aug 24, 2015
To enroll in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, you should:
- Be in good health
- At least 20 years old
- Able to walk a quarter of a mile without symptoms
- Have no history of:
- Kidney Disease
- Heart Attack
- Heart Failure
For additional Information, please call 410-3503941
Stephanie Studenski MD MPH, new BLSA Director
Jun 19, 2014
Dr. Stephanie Studenski has recently joined the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging as Director of the Longitudinal Studies Section and the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging. Dr. Luigi Ferrucci has been promoted to the position of Scientific Director of the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging, but remains closely involved in the BLSA.
Dr Studenski is a geriatrician and rheumatologist whose practice, teaching and research focus on physical function and body composition, and their relationships with mobility, balance disorders and falls in older adults. She received her training in Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Rheumatology at Duke University Medical Center and received a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of North Carolina. She joined NIA in January of 2014. Prior to her arrival, she was Professor of Medicine, Nursing, Public Health and Allied Health at the University of Pittsburgh where she served as principal investigator of the Pittsburgh Claude D Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.
Her research focuses on balance and mobility problems that occur with obvious conditions such as stroke, as well as those of more insidious onset that may be related to subclinical losses in multiple organ systems. She has investigated the use of physical performance measures such as gait speed in the clinical setting, examined a wide range of potential contributors to gait and balance disorders with a focus on neural control, body composition and muscle function, and has led several clinical trials of novel forms of exercise to promote balance and mobility in older persons.
At NIA she is especially excited about the opportunity to work with the exceptional talent of the NIA research team and with the dedicated staff and participants of the BLSA. Among other efforts, she is working to update the gait lab and build further interactions around the extensive neuroimaging resources of the BLSA. She is also collaborating with NIA scientists to create and test novel phenotypes of aging for use in animal and human studies.
She can be contacted at Stephanie.firstname.lastname@example.org
A Conversation with…Dr. Luigi Ferrucci
Feb 28, 2013
In May 2011, NIA appointed internationally known gerontologist and epidemiologist Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., as scientific director. Dr. Ferrucci originally joined the NIA in 2002 to serve as chief of the Longitudinal Studies Section and director of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA). Before coming to NIA and the U.S., he was chief of geriatric rehabilitation at the Department of Geriatric Medicine and director of the Laboratory of Clinical Epidemiology at the Italian National Institute of Aging, where he collaborated with the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
Beginning his career as a geriatrician and then earning a doctorate in the biology and pathophysiology of aging from the University of Florence in Italy, Dr. Ferrucci has long been interested in the aging process. When he was in his early 20s, while many of his friends were idealizing rock stars and soccer players, Dr. Ferrucci recalls, he admired the career and work of Dr. Nathan Shock, BLSA founder and chief of the Gerontology Branch at NIH in the 1940s. Dr. Ferrucci’s multidisciplinary background forms the basis for some of his goals as scientific director.
Dr. Ferrucci has made major contributions in the design of many epidemiological studies conducted in the U.S. and Europe. His research has been aimed at reducing the burden of disease and disability in older people. He is credited with the discovery that physical and cognitive functional status—not a disease or condition by itself—is the most important measure of health and homeostatic equilibrium in older people. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Joseph T. Freeman Award from the Gerontological Society of America and the title of Honorary Member by the Board of Directors of the Italian Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2011.
Dr. Ferrucci was asked by the Spotlight on Aging Research to talk about his interest in aging research, his first year as NIA scientific director, and his vision for the future of NIA and the study of aging.
Q: What initially attracted you to aging research?
A: My interest started when I was still a teenager. I was a waiter at a Red Cross dinner in Italy, and I met this professor, Francesco Maria Antonini, who would later become my mentor. He asked me what I was doing there, and I said I wanted to do something to help the world be a better place, something that was important. And so he spent 2 hours explaining to me why, if I wanted to do something important, I needed to study aging because aging would be the most important force that would change everything in the world—from society to family to economics to health care. He said that these changes were already happening and no one was really studying them. That was what initially sparked my interest in aging research. When I started looking into it, I recognized that there were many fascinating aspects of aging that I wanted to study. And my mentor was right; this work fulfills my desire to be useful to society.
Q: In May 2011, you were appointed NIA scientific director. What is your role for the Institute?
A: The scientific director sets the stage for the science produced by the Intramural Research Program (IRP). Of course, this is done in concert with all the scientists who participate in the IRP. The scientific director has a global, 360-degree view of what is happening in the different laboratories and then helps coordinate their work so that they interact with each other and maintain their focus on the mission of the Institute. Another important role of the scientific director is to make sure that resources are used most productively, leading to the best science that can be produced within the Institute.
Scientists have very specific purposes for their projects and a vision of the immediate future, leading to their next paper. The scientific director needs to have a wider perspective and look a bit farther into the future. How is science changing? What are the emerging areas of investigation that will be important to include in the IRP to continue to do state-of-the-art science?
That is really the role I like the most. I read constantly and try to talk to as many people as I can to understand what’s happening in the aging field. I work to introduce new areas and ideas from the field and see how the IRP investigators can interact with other successful, bright, and creative scientists in the field.
Q: Before becoming NIA scientific director you were director of NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. How has your experience at NIA prior to becoming scientific director helped with your new position, including your reorganization of the IRP?
A: When I came to NIA, I was asked to take a hard look at the BLSA. The BLSA was probably the most famous and successful study on aging in the world, but had faded to some degree because its technology and approaches were no longer state of the art. Also, the BLSA previously had been a consortium of investigators working together. But at that time, the collaboration was no longer successful and the study was fragmented across many different places and among different investigators.
The first thing I did as BLSA director was to create a scientific paradigm for the study—to determine what the study should achieve, not only in the next 10 years, but in the next 50 years. A study like this is really created for our children and our grandchildren, to provide for them the opportunity to build on what we are learning today about aging.
Revitalizing the BLSA was a challenge, but it was also fascinating. I could concentrate exclusively on my goals for the study without thinking about larger scale financial issues, interpersonal challenges, or competing interests at the IRP. I had a great team at the BLSA to count on and greater resources than I had been used to in Italy, so I could really do a good job.
When I became scientific director, I had to deal with many similar infrastructure problems but in a much different dimension.
One of IRP’s greatest assets is its incredibly brilliant scientists. I’m always amazed by their papers and the fantastic science that they produce. But the problem with the IRP was that our conceptualization of aging was becoming outdated. We were looking at aging fractured across multiple systems—the aging of the heart, the brain, the liver, the bone, the muscle.
The past decade has transformed our understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying aging. We need to have an integrated view of aging, where aging is the common phenomenon, the driving force of changes occurring across the entire body in an almost harmonic way. Likewise, it’s important that the different IRP scientists with their different research interests collaborate and combine their knowledge to start looking at this overall, overarching theme of aging.
It was on this basis that I reconceptualized the IRP within the limit of the available resources, trying to maintain our important work but also add to it and enhance its value. So, in a way this task was similar to my work reorganizing the BLSA but on a much larger, complicated scale. (Read more about the IRP reorganization.)
Q: What is the greatest challenge of your new position?
A: We’ve got amazing scientists at the IRP, but they have different personalities and approaches to their work. Part of my responsibility as scientific director is to make sure that the researchers lead successful, productive careers and don’t let idiosyncrasies get in the way of effective collaboration. If you are working in a group of scientists who are talking together, who have a collaborative spirit, and are working as a team, of course the productivity attained is completely different than if you are working in isolation. And also, most people love to work in this environment and so they’re stimulated to do their best work.
Q: What are some of the changes you’ve implemented in the NIA Intramural Research Program since becoming scientific director?
A: I really wanted to emphasize a larger integration among the different tiers of science. To be more precise, I think that the people who do basic biology have incredible knowledge about the biology of aging at the cellular level. Then there are people who work with animal models, from mice to primates. And then there are epidemiologists, people who run clinical trials, and those who work on drug development. The problem has always been that the labs were created to focus on one thing, and they had little osmosis and shared communication.
So what I did was shuffle the cards. We reorganized many of the laboratories so that they were made up of people who do basic biology, animal models, and clinical research. When these scientists work together in this way, I hope they can start sharing their experiences and create a translational energy. So, those ideas that come from basic biology are more easily and rapidly translated into interventions that can really benefit older people.
One of the other major things I did was to increase the level of transparency, especially when it comes to funding decisions made about the IRP. Not everyone agrees with every decision, but at least now everybody receives notification of those decisions and the rationale and data on which they are based, especially the financial decisions.
So there’s increased transparency about how decisions are made. And in this context, I think one of the important things I created was direct communication between the Office of the Scientific Director and the scientists who are running the core facilities, which are the technical facilities that serve the needs of the different labs and the different investigators. I receive progress reports on how those cores are functioning, and I can make any necessary changes quickly and effectively, instead of waiting until problems arise.
I’ve also created a lab chief lunch every month. We spend an hour and a half talking about science, especially new ideas emerging in the lab, what we call the green bananas, those that are still not ready for prime time, but that may be implemented in the future. I’m also trying to create other opportunities for informal communication exchange.
Q: What are the greatest opportunities of your new position? What excites you about being scientific director?
A: This is the dream job for me. The opportunities of the IRP are enormous, with so many different types of expertise in one place. You rarely have that span of knowledge under the same roof.
Ultimately, my hope for the future is that the IRP will make discoveries that will allow us to prevent some of the cognitive decline that occurs with aging and to substantially prevent some of the physical decline and frailty that occur with aging. And, if we are able to do this even a little bit, I think that will be an enormous contribution to society.