ISR retirement study receives U-M’s largest‑ever research grant

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With about $195 million in new federal funding — the largest research grant in University of Michigan history — the Institute for Social Research will extend its long-running and influential Health and Retirement Study through 2029.

The funding comes in the form of a grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, including co-funding from the Social Security Administration.

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The Health and Retirement Study is a long-running study of middle-aged and older adults in the United States that provides an invaluable and growing body of multidisciplinary data that researchers use to address important questions about the challenges and opportunities of aging.

Considered the gold standard among many researchers in the field of aging, the HRS will utilize these new funds to continue to follow about 20,000 American adults age 50 or older, some of whom have been a part of the study for up to 30 years.

“We are grateful to the NIA for their scientific engagement as well as their financial support to this cooperative agreement,” said David Weir, HRS co-director and a research professor at ISR. “Together we have kept the study relevant to the rapidly advancing science of aging, maintained a diverse and nationally representative sample of participants, and with our commitment to data sharing steadily increased the number of users and publications supported by the HRS.”

With funding now secured through 2029, the HRS will expand its focus on several high-priority scientific topics, said Kenneth Langa, HRS co-director and the Cyrus Sturgis Research Professor of Internal Medicine at the Medical School. Langa also is a professor of internal medicine, a research professor at the Medical School’s Institute of Gerontology and ISR’s Survey Research Center, and professor of health management and policy at the School of Public Health.

“Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will affect a growing number of older adults in the decades ahead, with huge implications for family caregivers and the cost of government support programs,” Langa said. “Our expanded data collection on cognition and disability in later life will be especially valuable to better understand and track the growing impact of dementia now and into the future, including the potential long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dementia risk.”

Jessica Faul, associate director of the HRS and a research associate professor at ISR, will lead an expansion of the collection of blood-based biomarkers and genetic data. 

“With these innovative measures, the HRS will be well-positioned to support new research to understand the biological pathways that link early life experiences, social and behavioral factors, and environmental exposures to health at older ages,” she said.

In addition to expanding parts of the study, the new funding will allow HRS to continue its worldwide growth and influence.

“We are thrilled to see renewed funding for the continued contributions of the Health and Retirement Study,” said ISR Director Kate Cagney. “HRS’ body of work provides key insights into the aging population, and we look forward to seeing the study’s continued growth through the leadership of its principal investigators and devoted research team.”

The study’s unique approach to its subject has resulted in the development of similar projects around the world. More than 40 countries have launched studies patterned on the HRS since its inception. More than 7,000 journal articles, books and dissertations have been published leveraging information from the study.

“I am so proud of the team at the Institute for Social Research for our record-setting grant from the National Institute on Aging,” President Santa J. Ono said. “But I’m even prouder of the impact the institute has had since its founding, and the research it continues to provide which transcends academic disciplines, opens our eyes, and points toward solutions for the great challenges of our time.”

The Health and Retirement Study was launched in 1990 and is supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration.

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