About NIA

NIA Timeline

The National Institute on Aging was established in 1974, but our origins reach back much farther.  This timeline contains information about key dates in our history.

1930:  The first concept of a National Institute of Health is developed.

1937:  The first Institute (Cancer) is established.

1940:  A Unit on Aging is established in the NIH Division of Chemotherapy.  Head:  Edward J. Stieglitz

1941:  The Unit on Aging (evidently, later the Gerontology Branch) moves to Baltimore City Hospital under the direction of Nathan Shock.

1941:  Surgeon General Thomas Parran forms the National Advisory Committee on Gerontology.

1948:  The Gerontology Branch is moved to the National Heart Institute.  (Note:  There had been an effort to establish an Institute of Aging with the Heart Institute as a subsidiary!  This failed when a physician to the Senate opined “We don’t need research on Aging.  All we need to do is go into the library and read what has been published.”)

1950:  President Truman convenes the First National Conference on Aging.

1951:  In his Trends in Gerontology, Dr. Shock outlines his recommendations for an Institute of Gerontology.

1956:  Federal Council on Aging is convened.

1956:  Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has a Special Staff on Aging; Center for Aging Research exists within the National Institute of Mental Health.

1958:  Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging established.

1959:  A Section on Aging established within NIMH (James E. Birren, head)

1959:  Aging research conducted through NIH intramural programs (Gerontology Branch of the National Heart Institute and NIMH Section on Aging).

1959:  Almost 600 research and training grants on aging are under way through the Center for Aging Research, “the focal point for information on the NIH activities in gerontology.”

1961:  First White House Conference on Aging recommends creation of an Aging Institute.  Their report reads, in part, “a National Institute of Gerontology should be set up within the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on aging; Federal financial support should be increased for biomedical research in governmental agencies, universities, hospitals, research centers and for building necessary facilities; human population laboratories should be established to study problems associated with aging.”

1962:  The Gerontology Research Center Nathan Shock Laboratory facility is donated to NIH by the City of Baltimore (deed dated 12/6/62; recorded 2/1/63).[i]

1963: The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is established to focus on health issues across the life course, including in old age.  President John F. Kennedy remarks, “For the first time, we will have an Institute to promote studies directed at the entire life process rather than toward specific diseases or illnesses.”

1965:  The Older Americans Act establishes the Administration on Aging as “the Federal focal point for activities in aging.”

1967:  The Gerontology Research Center in Baltimore, long a part of the National Heart Institute, is transferred to NICHD.

1968:  The Division of General Medical Sciences has responsibility for research grant projects in aging.  Aging-related research is conducted and supported throughout NIH – primarily NICHD, but also NCIA, NIAID, the National Heart Institute, and the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases.

1968:  Construction of the Gerontology Research Center (GRC) in Baltimore is completed.

December 2, 1971: The White House Conference on Aging once again recommends creation of a separate National Institute on Aging.

1973:  President Richard Nixon vetoes a bill for the creation of a National Institute on Aging.

May 31, 1974: Public Law 93-296 authorizes the establishment of a National Institute on Aging and requires that the institute develop a national comprehensive plan to coordinate the HEW (Health, Education, Welfare) agencies involved in aging research.

October 7, 1974:  The National Institute on Aging is established.

April 23, 1975:  First meeting of the National Advisory Council on Aging.

July 1, 1975: The Adult Development and Aging Branch and Gerontology Research Center are separated from their parent institute (NICHD) to become the core of the National Institute on Aging.

May 1, 1976:  Dr. Robert N. Butler appointed first NIA director.

December 8, 1976:  The research plan required by P.L. 93-296 goes to Congress.

September 20, 1982:  NIA Laboratory of Neurosciences Clinical Program admits the first inpatient to a new unit at the NIH Clinical Center.

1984:  The first Alzheimer's Disease Centers are established.

November 14, 1986:  P.L. 99-660, section 951-952, authorizes the NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center as a part of a broad program to conduct research and distribute information about Alzheimer’s disease to health professionals, patients and their families, and the general public.

1987:  The first annual Florence S. Mahoney Lecture on Aging is held.  This series was created in honor of Mrs. Florence Stephenson Mahoney (1899-2002), a woman who tirelessly campaigned for increased Federal spending for medical research and steadfastly championed for the creation of the NIA. 

NIA holds its first Summer Institute, a one-week event to provide junior investigators, particularly those from underrepresented groups, an opportunity to learn about the substance and methodology of aging research from recognized experts in the field. 

November 4, 1988:  P.L. 100-607 establishes the Geriatric Research and Training Centers (GRTC).

1990:  The GRTCs are expanded and renamed the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers and charged with conducting research in diseases that threaten independent living.

1992:  The Health and Retirement Study, the leading source of combined data on health and financial circumstances of Americans over age 50 and a valuable resource to follow and predict trends and help inform policies for an aging America, is established.

1993:  Six Edward Roybal Centers for Research on Applied Gerontology are authorized to convert research findings into programs that improve the lives of older people and their families.

NIA funds six Exploratory Centers for Minority Aging and Health Promotion in collaboration with the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health.

1994:  Nine demography of aging centers are funded to provide research on health, economics, and aging to make more effective use of data from several national surveys of health, retirement, and long-term care.

1995:  Three Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in Basic Biology of Aging are established to further the study of the basic processes of aging.

1996:  NIA introduces its Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging, providing encouragement and evidence-based guidance for older adults to engage in exercise.

1997:  The Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) program is established to investigate the variability of health differences experienced across racial and ethnic groups, as well as the mentoring of new scholars in health disparities research.

1999:  As part of NIA's 25th anniversary celebration, a strategic plan is formulated and made available for public comment. The plan addressees scientific topics holding the greatest promise for advancing knowledge in areas such as the basic biology of aging, geriatrics, and social and behavioral functioning.

2001:  In a unique private-public partnership, NIA joins the Osteoarthritis Initiative to bring together resources and commitment to the search for biological markers of osteoarthritis.

NIA and the Icelandic Heart Association announce collaboration on a vast study on the interactions of age, genes, and the environment. The collaboration extends 34 years of data on the health of 23,000 Icelandic residents into the new millennium.

2002: NIA begins to offer a selection of its award-winning health communications materials in Spanish.

The SardiNIA Project, a study to determine the genetic bases for a number of age-related traits and conditions, begins.  This five-year project is a collaboration between the NIA Intramural Research Program and the Italian National Research Council.

2003:  NIA and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) launch NIHSeniorhealth.gov, a web site designed to encourage older people to use the Internet.

The NIA, joined by the Alzheimer's Association, expands the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Initiative to create a large bank of genetic materials and cell lines for study to speed up the discovery of risk-factor genes for late-onset Alzheimer's disease.

NIA and the American Federation for Aging Research—in collaboration with the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Staff Foundation—establish the Paul B. Beeson Career Development Awards in Aging Research program, a public-private partnership to support clinically trained junior faculty to pursue careers in aging research.

The NIA IRP’s Advanced Studies in Translational Research on Aging (ASTRA) unit, a state-of-the-art facility located at Baltimore's Harbor Hospital, opens in January and becomes the new home of the BLSA. 

2004:  NIA launches the Longevity Consortium, a network of investigators from several large-scale human cohort studies working in collaboration with individual basic biological aging researchers to facilitate the discovery, confirmation, and understanding of genetic determinants of healthy human longevity.

NIA begins the Long Life Family Study, an international multicenter research project to examine families with high numbers of long-lived individuals to better understand the genetic and environmental contributions to exceptional long life in families.

NIA, in conjunction with other Federal agencies and private companies and organizations through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, leads the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

NIA launches Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS), a multidisciplinary community based, longitudinal, epidemiologic study examining the influences and interaction of race and socioeconomic status on the development of age-associated health disparities among socioeconomically diverse African Americans and whites in Baltimore.

2005:  NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Preclinical Drug Development program is established.

2006:  NIA leads the NIH conference “AD: Setting the Research Agenda a Century after Auguste D,” to assess the state of current Alzheimer's disease research and the most promising routes to progress.

2007:  “Living Long & Well in the 21st Century:  Strategic Directions for Research on Aging,” which outlines broad goals and objectives for aging research, is published.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sponsors the Summit on Global Aging in collaboration with NIA to call attention to challenges and opportunities worldwide from population aging.

A Spanish-language version of the NIA web site (http://www.nia.nih.gov/Espanol) goes live.

2008:  A Biology of Aging Summit is convened to review NIA’s research portfolio, identify areas of opportunity, and facilitate the formulation of cohesive and comprehensive plans for the future.

NIA celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.

NIA’s five extramural programs (Aging Biology, Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology, Neuroscience, Behavioral and Social Research, and Extramural Activities) are reorganized as divisions.

2009:  An updated version of NIA’s award-winning exercise guide for older Americans is published.

Sources:  “National Institute on Aging:  Important Events in NIA History.”  NIH Almanac, 1998.  http://www.nih.gov/about/almanac/archive/1998/organization/nia/history.html

“National Institute on Aging.”  NIH Almanac, 2008-2009.


Morley JE.  A Brief History of Geriatrics.  Journals of Gerontology:  Medical Sciences 59:  1132-1152, 2004.

Freeman JT.  Some Notes on the History of the National Institute on Aging.  Gerontologist 20:  610-614, 1980.

NIA Congressional Justification narratives for FY 2009 and FY 2010.

[i] http://www.nih.gov/about/almanac/archive/1998/property/acquisition.html