Commitment To Scientists Studying Aging Increased By AFAR/Ellison Medical Foundation

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Main Category: Seniors / Aging News
Article Date: 16 Oct 2007 – 1:00 PDT
At a time when established scientists are leaving academia because of a lack of funding for biomedical research and a potential new generation of scientists are considering whether to even enter a field with a competitive funding environment, the Ellison Medical Foundation in partnership with the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR), has increased funding for two critical grant programs: the new Ellison Medical Foundation/AFAR Postdoctoral Fellows in Aging Research Program and the Julie Martin Mid-Career Awards in Aging Research.

The Ellison Medical Foundation has awarded AFAR more than $2.8 million to support 45 postdoctoral fellows (both MDs and PhDs at any level of postdoctoral training) over the next three years in the fundamental mechanisms of aging. With this new commitment, the Ellison Medical Foundation/AFAR partnership has increased five-fold the number of researchers it will support.

“We are grateful to the ongoing and continued support of the Ellison Medical Foundation in expanding the postdoctoral fellowship program, said Stephanie Lederman, Executive Director of the American Federation for Aging Research. “There are so many promising scientists yet we are only able to fund eight percent of the applicants who seek grants. There’s a potential to lose a tremendous brain trust of future leaders in aging research. The Ellison Medical Foundation has taken a lead role in helping the next generation of researchers establish careers and an aging society will benefit,” she added.

“The potential for dramatic discoveries in biological and biomedical science applied to aging is greater now than at any other time in history,” said Richard L. Sprott, PhD, Executive Director of the Ellison Medical Foundation. “In the face of this opportunity we currently see declining federal support for scientists. Those just beginning their careers are especially vulnerable as support dries up. Our hope is that this decline is temporary, yet even a temporary reduction in support for scientists just beginning their careers, or those deciding whether to stay in science or build a career elsewhere, could result in the loss of most of a whole generation of scientists. Our partnership with AFAR is an important part of our overall strategy to help sustain as many developing investigators of aging as can survive the current funding shortage. Partnership with AFAR helps both organizations maximize the impact of funding by maximizing the quality of the review process using AFAR reviewers and minimizing the administrative burdens by combining our programs into a single, highly effective program,” Dr. Sprott added.

Mid-Career Scientists Need Support Too

While early-career scientists need a foothold into the field of aging research, the work of mid-career scientists is vulnerable in the current funding climate. With more competition for fewer research dollars, many mid-career scientists are finding it difficult to maintain labs and are leaving academia to pursue careers in the private sector.

To protect the contribution of established researchers and sustain the progress of promising research, the Ellison Medical Foundation in partnership with AFAR is increasing its commitment to the Julie Martin Mid-Career Awards in Aging Research.

Established in 2005, the Julie Martin Mid-Career Awards in Aging Research provides funding for mid-career scientists engaged in innovative research that has the potential for higher yield in advancing understanding of basic mechanisms of aging. This kind of research is often considered too risky for traditional sources of funding but has the potential to spearhead research progress in basic aging processes and the connection to age-related diseases and disorders.

Investigators will compete for grants of $550,000 each in 2008 and 2009. Candidates include not only scientists already engaged in aging research but also scientists’ whose research is relevant to the biology of aging which could lead to novel approaches.

“While AFAR-supported grant programs have traditionally focused on early-career scientists, it is also important to sustain that investment in our scientists at all stages of their careers,” said Stephanie Lederman. This generous grant can make all the difference in allowing years of painstaking research to continue.”

“Mid-career scientists, with newly acquired tenure, are at a unique career stage. Freed from worry about getting tenure and job stability, they have more intellectual freedom than they have ever had before. We hope to empower them to try riskier research with great potential pay-off, for themselves and for an aging society.”

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

Opportunities for scientists to exercise their imaginations and explore new directions are remarkably hard to find within today’s research framework. Science itself is usually a painstakingly slow, deliberate, and expensive process. Research progress is hard to direct and even harder to predict. Progress is usually made by incremental advances in knowledge that build on current knowledge. The U.S. scientific infrastructure is generally geared to supporting the slow, steady march of progress. Investigators frequently have difficulty obtaining financial support through traditional sources to follow up novel ideas or observations that challenge current dogma. Yet these are the very creative opportunities that may foster a “quantum leap” or “paradigm shift” in scientific understanding, eventually contributing to advances in human health. The Ellison Medical Foundation’s goal is to respond to that need, providing scientists with the resources, freedom, and flexibility to pursue high-risk research that could have a scientific impact worldwide. The Foundation expects that its programs will stimulate exciting innovative research that will improve lives and influence future discoveries.

AFAR is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support biomedical research on aging. It is devoted to creating the knowledge that all of us need to live healthy, productive, and independent lives. Since 1981, AFAR has awarded approximately $100 million to more than 2,400 talented scientists as part of its broad-based series of grant programs. Its work has led to significant advances in our understanding of the aging process, age-related diseases, and healthy aging practices. AFAR communicates news of these innovations through its organizational web site and educational web sites Infoaging ( and Health Compass (

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