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Sierra Kunkoski, Balmore Longitudinal Study on Aging

Posted on July 28th

For the most comprehensive and longest running longitudinal examinaon of human aging in the world, NIA’s Balmore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) had a simple beginning. It started with a conversaon in 1958 between Nathan Shock, Ph.D., Chief of the Gerontology Branch at the Naonal Instutes of Health (NIH), and William W. Peter, M.D., a rered U.S. Public Health Service officer and missionary doctor. Peter had a long-established reputaon for his dedicaon to medicine and wanted to know how he could make a final contribuon—donang his body to science. But Shock had something else in mind. He wanted to discuss with Peter the direcon he believed aging research should take.

Breaking with scienfic convenon, Shock wanted to study normal aging, and he wanted to do it by repeatedly evaluang the same people over me. He hypothesized that important concepts pernent to aging could only be understood by looking at healthy, independently living people at regular intervals over a number of years. Shock didn’t just want bodies donated to study aging aer death; he wanted living people parcipang in scienfic studies. It was a radical concept that intrigued Peter. He volunteered to be the first parcipant.

Soon, Shock and Peter were joined by study coordinator Arthur Norris, described by Shock as his “steady right hand.” The three men outlined the new study’s parameters. The BLSA would “observe and document the physical, mental, and emoonal effects of the aging process in healthy, acve people.”

Women were not originally part of the study design but joined the BLSA in 1978, offering sciensts the opportunity to beer understand the influence of sex on aging, especially important because at the me, women lived 8 to 9 years longer than men. Many of the original female parcipants were wives or widows of male volunteers. Today, NIA’s Intramural Research Program in Balmore welcomes more than 1,300 male and female BLSA parcipants ranging in age from their twenes to ninees, who come regularly for a variety of tests to help sciensts observe changes over years of life.

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