AFAR and Aging Research
AFAR and Aging Research

Impact and Benefits, Process and Outcomes

Why Is Aging Research Important?

Nearly all major diseases, including many cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, occur with greater frequency as we age.  The number of older Americans with multiple, chronic illnesses will increase significantly as the baby boomer generation reaches age 65 and beyond.  Understanding the underlying mechanisms of aging is the most direct way of enabling researchers to tackle common diseases of old age.  Recently, more and more investigation is focused on searching for clues to the biological mechanisms of aging itself. AFAR believes that by supporting new investigators who are exploring the fundamental mechanisms of aging, a better understanding of the major diseases and disabilities of aging will be achieved.

Although the federal government supports aging-related research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), its National Institute on Aging (NIA), the Veterans Administration, and a handful of other agencies, additional funding for biomedical research on aging is critically needed at this time.  In the past few years, researchers have become increasingly concerned about our government’s commitment to supporting scientific investigation in this area. 

 

Why Support New Investigators?

In consultation with national leaders in the field, AFAR board members, and current and former grantees, we have come to believe that the funding base for early career investigators is not currently adequate.

The challenge of attracting investigators to the field of aging research is unfortunately growing, as many young scientists are unable to make the transition to independent investigator status.  The general lengthening of graduate and postdoctoral training periods (including the “postdoctoral employment” trend), the scarcity of faculty positions in biomedical research, and NIH’s policies, practices and funding levels, have all contributed in recent years to fewer investigators making a successful transition to becoming an independent investigator. While post-postdoctoral appointments have grown, scientists in these positions no longer work as trainees under a mentor’s supervision, and many of them have not yet obtained the independent financial support needed to transition to independent careers.  Absent such support, these scientists, many of whom are extraordinarily able and energetic researchers, are increasingly obliged to consider changing their investigative focus to other areas. Moreover, the scarcity of public funding for aging-related research encourages both grant applications and grant awards that are conservative and risk-averse in nature, avoiding novel and controversial approaches to scientific problems.

 

The AFAR Research Grant Program,
Review Process, and Outcomes:

AFAR research grants provide $100,000 to early-career investigators with flexible support at a critical juncture in their career development when research funding is most difficult to obtain—during the transition from postdoctoral fellowship training to junior faculty appointments. Without this type of transitional research support, it is difficult to nurture and sustain talented scientists and to recruit additional researchers into the field.

AFAR has a nationally respected and scientifically rigorous grant review process. AFAR solicits Letters of Intent (LOI), and a select group of key AFAR Scientific board members and ad hoc members review the LOIs for program relevance and eligibility. If needed, members of the AFAR National Scientific Advisory Committee (NSAC) are approached for help/additional expertise. A subset of applications will be invited to submit full applications.  AFAR has a large network of expert reviewers to draw from. Currently there are some 400 members on the NSAC with aging-related expertise. Our grant review process is highly efficient and addresses the needs of the applicants and reviewers in an evolving scientific environment.

The AFAR Research Grant Program is highly effective in identifying and training promising new scientists who go on to distinguish themselves as leaders in the field, chairing departments and running labs at major academic institutions.  Below are additional program outcomes that are measured through surveys of AFAR grantees:

1. Advancements in aging research.
As their research is developed under the AFAR grants, scientists develop new hypotheses and spur the research of others, even changing methods of practice and fundamental approaches in the field.  Almost all grantees reported that their AFAR-sponsored research laid the groundwork or provided new insights for future studies, and 53% said that their research stimulated follow-up studies by others.

2. Grantees’ commitment to aging research.
Of the survey respondents, 99% continue to conduct aging-related research, and 93% of those respondents have continued to develop the research topic initiated under their AFAR research grant.  

3. Grantees’ publications and media profiles.
According to the survey, 69% of respondents have published the results of their AFAR-sponsored research and 33% have had their research profiled in one or more media, including national and international press. 

4. Opportunities for scientific exchange.
AFAR grant recipients participate in an annual Grantee Conference, which provides valuable opportunities for new investigators to learn from each others’ work and to engage in informative and enriching discussions with senior investigators.  The Conference has also stimulated many multi-site collaborative studies.

 

Benefits to Partnering with AFAR

With its well-established grant review process and experienced staff, AFAR serves as an efficient conduit for foundations and individuals who wish to support aging-related research.  More than 92% of funds contributed to the AFAR Research Grant Program go directly to supporting researchers.  Less than 8% is used for administration expenses. 

Sponsors of AFAR Research Grants gain visibility as key contributors to a research area that is crucial to the health of our nation.  With a population of 70.3 million people age 65 years and older projected by the year 2030, there is growing media and public awareness of the importance of biomedical research on aging.  Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, and other prominent publications have all featured recent stories on aging research, often profiling AFAR-supported scientists.  AFAR also provides its grant sponsors with a communications conduit to professional and public audiences via AFAR’s national scientific conferences, media briefings, Web sites and Webinars, and special publications.

AFAR grant sponsors have access to hundreds of scientists who work in a wide array of disciplines and disease areas.  AFAR has worked with a number of foundations to tailor grant programs to the foundation’s specific area of grant giving, working with a team of AFAR scientists to develop the specific award description, objectives, and selection criteria.



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