Researcher handling test tubes in a laboratory_lab
Credit: Longhua Liao / Getty Images
Researcher handling test tubes in a laboratory_lab
Credit: Longhua Liao / Getty Images

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Optimal Aging Institute at NYU Langone Health $31 million for a 10-university cohort to study how vascular risk factors contribute to dementia and other age-related disorders in people aged 85 and older.

The research will aim to understand risk factors for vascular issues. Knowing vascular risk factors earlier in life can strongly predict more serious risks like dementia and other types of cognitive and physical decline when people get older. 

Investigators hope the research will enable them to develop biomarkers, changes in bodily fluids and tissues, that can signal an abnormal process in the body or a disease. The biomarkers could give valuable insights at all ages, the researchers said in a statement.

Institute’s mission

The mission of the institute is to form a hub that creates and connects world-leading, cross-disciplinary teams of scientists and clinicians to drive research that improves aging and pinpoints risk factors earlier in life. The organization was formed in 2023. 

Investigators hope the research moves from biobanking to biomarker discovery, molecular research, and clinical trials that inform risk factor prediction, prevention, intervention and policy changes.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute awarded the funds to the NYU institute to continue work on the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities — Neurocognitive Study (ARIC-NCS), one of the longest-running heart health studies. 

Josef Coresh, MD, a co-leader of the organization and founding director of the institute, worked alongside colleagues as a part of that study to track 15,792 people for more than 35 years. The people come from Maryland, North Carolina, Mississippi and Minnesota. Coresh has worked with ARIC since 2022.

“As human life expectancy increases, there is an urgent need to better understand risk among people aged 85 or older and discover biomarkers that may explain the changing risk associations at older age for a wide range of diseases,” Coresh said. “Vascular disease, while preventable, is linked to heart disease, dementia and kidney disease. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue gathering rigorous evidence regarding modifiable risk factors in midlife and in older age that may improve dementia prevention efforts and health among even the most elderly adults.”

Funding for experts from 10 universities

The $31 million in funding will include experts from 10 universities across the country and will follow approximately 4,000 of the original participants who remain active in the study and are in their 80s and 90s. That will add to about 40 years’ worth of health-related and biomarker data that will give insights on cognitive function, physical decline, and age-related disease. The renewal will expand upon the data obtained to include six types of wearable devices to enable monitoring of sleep, physical activity, blood glucose and the heart.