ISR Health and Retirement Study enhanced with significant new federal support

December 7, 2015

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study has received significant support from the National Institutes of Health in order to carry out three important new enhancements to this important resource for aging research.

The study, which began in 1992, follows more than 35,000 people over the age of 50, interviewing participants every two years, from pre-retirement to advanced old age. It is conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research under a cooperative agreement between U-M and the National Institute on Aging at NIH.

“The new initiatives are innovative across a range of scientific areas and will further broaden our understanding of aging in America,” said ISR research scientist David Weir, who directs the Health and Retirement Study.

With the additional support, researchers will be able to extend the scope and value of the study as they:

  • Add a new cohort of late baby boomers to its ongoing research sample, using innovative sampling methods to reduce cost while keeping the study representative of the U.S. population age 50 and over.
  • Collect blood samples that will provide valuable information on the aging of the immune system and related molecular and cellular age-related changes.
  • Carry out a new population study of dementia in collaboration with sister studies around the globe.

“These enhancements expand the already rich content in the Health and Retirement Study,” said John Haaga, acting director of the NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research. “How people fare at older ages has a lot to do with the genetic and environmental, including family and societal, influences in their lives. We expect these supplements will provide important opportunities to more deeply examine those factors and how they may interact.”

Funding for the new initiatives is expected to total $40 million over the next three years. That amount is in addition to funding for the basic Health and Retirement study. The U.S. Social Security Administration provides additional support for the study.

“This study is one of the most important in the world,” said David Lam, director of the U-M Institute for Social Research. “It brings together scientists from a broad range of disciplines and is a prime example of Michigan’s strength in interdisciplinary research and ISR’s commitment to collaboration.”

U-M collaborators involved in the new supplemental studies include Sharon Kardia of the U-M School of Public Health; Kenneth Langa of the U-M School of Public Health, Medical School and Institute of Gerontology; Bruno Giordani of the U-M Medical School, Department of Psychology and School of Nursing; and Richard Vaillant, an ISR survey sampling expert.

“The ability to collect blood samples in this long-standing, well-characterized study opens up tremendous opportunities for genomic, transcriptomic, and epigenomic studies of aging,” Kardia said.

Most of the research will take place in 2016, when the Health and Retirement Study begins another round of interviews.

The study has a number of international sister studies, allowing researchers to assess global similarities and differences in aging. These include studies in Mexico, England, Europe, Korea, Japan, Ireland, China, Indonesia, Costa Rica and New Zealand. Similar studies are under development in India, Brazil, Scotland, Africa and Canada.


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