Jenny Tung, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology, DUPRI Scholar and MacArthur Fellow, leads the newly awarded “Research Network on Animal Models to Understand the Social Dimensions of Aging” R24 grant from the National Institutes on Aging (NIA). Together with co-directors, Kathleen Mullan Harris, James E. Haar Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Alessandro Bartolomucci , Associate Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, University of Minnesota, this award will launch a national network designed to foster research that integrates animal models into studies of social aging. The Network will facilitate the exchange of ideas, concepts and data between animal researchers and researchers working on humans, provide mentorship and training for new investigators, and support new projects focused on using animal models to improve human health and well-being over the lifespan.
As the US population grows older and the health burden imposed by diseases of aging increases, social factors such as low socioeconomic status, social isolation, and low social support are considered among the best predictors of susceptibility to diseases of aging. Animal models are a powerful tool for understanding why, when, and how these relationships arise. Like humans, other social mammals exhibit strong associations between social adversity, health, and mortality with age. However, most other social mammals live shorter lives and live in less complex societies; some can also be studied using experimental approaches in a controlled environment. As such, the goal of the R24 Network is to support and develop innovative animal model research to better understand the social determinants of health and aging.
Tung, Bartolomucci, and Harris bring together decades of experience working with social and behavioral data on stress and aging biology in humans, nonhuman primates, and rodents, with ongoing research projects in both field and captive settings. This award extends and expands on DUPRI’s Social and Biological Determinants of Health (SBDOH) Working Group, a multidisciplinary collective of researchers assembled in 2014 under Tung’s leadership. Angela M. O’Rand, DUPRI Director and Director for the Center for Population, Health and Aging (CPHA) notes, “Professor Tung and her colleagues are at the forefront of exciting new research to determine how social and biological factors interact to produce comparable patterns of aging across social species. One promise of this research is to achieve healthier longevity and thus improve the quality of life.”