NIH/NINR – Telomeres in Wellness and Disease: A Biobehavioral Approach (R01, R21 Clinical Trial Optional)

December 3, 2018 by School of Medicine Webmaster

The following description was taken from the R01 version of this FOA.

It is becoming increasingly evident that both positive and negative health outcomes are multifactorial in nature, underscoring the importance of a biobehavioral research approach that encompasses both genetic and environmental factors, including how these factors in combination influence health outcomes across the lifespan. One understudied area in relation to gene/environment is the role of telomeres, which are protective “caps” made up of non-coding DNA sequences and located at the end of chromosomes. Telomere length decreases with cellular replication (and therefore as individuals age); once a critically short length is reached, cellular senescence is triggered. Telomerase, an enzyme that rebuilds telomeric DNA sequences, also plays a role in maintaining telomere length.

Telomere length reflects an individual’s biological (genomic), behavioral, and environmental factors, and as such, telomere length has been referred to as a “global biomarker” of health. While the inverse relationship between aging and telomere length is well-established, evidence has been building that telomere length is associated with positive and negative outcomes across the lifespan as related to wellness, disease occurrence, symptom expression/severity, and other clinical outcomes. For example, shortened telomeres have been associated with pain, cognitive impairment, caregiver stress, impaired sleep, and preterm birth. Conversely, increased telomere lengths have been found to be associated with healthy behaviors such as adherence to vegetable-rich diets and physical activity, indicating that such behaviors may confer a protective effect on telomere length, reduce telomere attrition, and potentially lead to better health outcomes.

This FOA focuses on clinical research that examines modifiable environmental, behavioral, lifestyle, and psychosocial factors that may influence telomere length and resulting health outcomes. Observed gene (telomere)-environment interactions, in conjunction with reported associations between telomere length and health outcomes, provide an ideal opportunity to employ a biobehavioral approach that further expands the understanding of these interactions and their underlying mechanisms, elucidates the health-related outcomes resulting from changes in telomere length, and strengthens the evidence base for personalized, non-pharmacological interventions targeting improved telomere health and associated outcomes across the lifespan.

Research Objectives include but are not limited to those that address:

  • Further delineation of modifiable behavioral, lifestyle, psychosocial, and environmental factors that (positively or negatively) directly influence, mediate, or moderate changes to telomere health across the lifespan
  • Clinical studies elucidating the association of telomere length with health outcomes, including disease risk, symptom manifestation, and other adverse outcomes, in addition to various healthy behaviors and positive outcomes; telomere analysis should be considered in the context of other biological markers (e.g., inflammatory markers, single nucleotide polymorphisms) and mechanisms (e.g., DNA methylation)
  • Biobehavioral (non-pharmacological) interventions that target modifiable environmental, behavioral, lifestyle, and psychosocial factors for improved telomere health and related health outcomes; monitor intervention response via telomerase activity and/or telomere length studies

This FOA is intended to encourage clinical studies; it is not intended for studies in animal models.  Studies using interventions such as drugs or biologics, dietary supplements, herbal medicines, or other complementary and alternative interventions are also not appropriate. Studies of environmental exposures such as pollutants, contaminants, and similar nonmodifiable exposures are considered outside of the scope of this FOA. Potential applicants are encouraged to contact the NINR Scientific/Research Contact to discuss proposed research ideas prior to submission of the application.

Deadlines:  standard dates and standard AIDS dates apply


Filed Under: Funding Opportunities