As the population of the United States ages, the health burden imposed by diseases of aging is expected to increase concomitantly. Social factors, including low socioeconomic status, social isolation, and low social support, are among the best predictors of susceptibility to diseases of aging, as well as lifespan itself. Nevertheless, key questions about the causal relationship and the biological mechanisms that link social experiences to health and aging remain unanswered. Animal models are a powerful tool to address these questions. Like humans, other social mammals exhibit strong associations between social adversity, health, and mortality. Unlike humans, though, they experience less complex environments, have shorter generation times, and can be subjected to experimental manipulation in controlled environments. The goal of this proposal is to build a Research Network on Animal Models to Understand Social Dimensions of Aging. By supporting interdisciplinary communication and pilot research from both human and nonhuman animal researchers, we aim to maximize the impact of animal model research on understanding the social determinants of health and aging. A Research Network is essential because current research in this area is distributed across many different disciplines, there is no standard set of conferences or publication venues where researchers with related interests overlap, and there are high barriers to entry for animal model work. The proposed network will overcome these challenges by supporting scientific meetings and workshops that build contacts across disciplines and among researchers at all career levels. It will also recruit new, diverse investigators into the field by providing opportunities for pilot project support, travel fellowships, and mentorship by experienced senior investigators. As part of these activities, the network will provide hands-on training for animal model research in rodents and nonhuman primates and for comparative research that leverages human and animal data sets. To build visibility, it will support targeted symposia at meetings where animal model work on the social dimensions of aging has not traditionally been represented. Finally, it will identify priority areas for animal model research and promote data and protocol dissemination. These activities will help set a research agenda that extends beyond the network?s immediate activities. Thus, the proposed network will transform a weakly connected community into a self-sustaining field of researchers equipped to conduct impactful research on the social dimensions of aging. Areas of particular interest include models to test the causal effects of social interactions on health; methods that can be flexibly deployed in both nonhuman animals and human populations; and research that investigates the benefits of behavioral interventions for alleviating the costs of social adversity. Advances in these areas will have direct translational application to human health and well-being during aging.

Public Health Relevance

Social adversity is strongly associated with susceptibility to diseases of aging, as well as with lifespan itself. These patterns are also observable in other social mammals, suggesting that animal models can be strategically leveraged to understand how social environments influence aging in humans. This proposal supports a Research Network for integrating animal models into studies of social aging, with the goal of mentoring and recruiting new investigators, building visibility across disciplines, and ultimately producing a self- sustaining research community that helps improve human health and well-being during aging.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Resource-Related Research Projects (R24)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAG1)
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Gerald, Melissa S
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Duke University
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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