Stephanie Lederman, American Federation for Aging Research

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Biomedical research and study related to healthy aging, geriatrics, Alzheimer's, cognitive decline in the elderly, and longevity

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Lederman and her team see the aging American population as a healthcare concern, one that can be addressed by funding biomedical research with applications for healthy aging.

PROFILE: Americans are getting older. People over the age of 65 represented 12.4 percent of the population in 2000; the Department of Health and Human Services expects this number to rise to 19 percent by 2030. The aging population has implications for our healthcare system. Older people have different sets of health issues than younger people, including chronic illness, dementia, and long-term medical care needs.

How can we meet the growing need for geriatric research and care in the United States? And how can we ensure that, as our population ages, it does so with dignity and in health? These are questions that New York's American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) is working to answer. At AFAR's helm is Stephanie Lederman, who for more than 15 years has led the organization in promoting health and wellness for elderly populations in America.

As its mission, AFAR aims to advance healthy aging through biomedical research. Essentially, AFAR funds medical students and medical researchers as they work to advance the field of geriatrics. For more than 30 years, AFAR has granted approximately $140 million to more than 3,000 researchers. AFAR gives out about $7 million annually in grants.

Which research is AFAR funding? And how exactly is it contributing to the field of geriatrics? Fortunately, AFAR has an informative website with plenty of info on how its money is being spent. Currently, dozens of students are benefiting from AFAR grants to study geriatrics. (Among AFAR's concerns: not enough geriatric specialists in the medical field, a problem it aims to change.) Additionally, 10 university researchers, with support from AFAR, are investigating such topics as: stem cells and age-related neurodegeneration; the role of cognitive function genes in human longevity; and the role of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme in Alzheimer's and cognitive decline.

AFAR has a number of grant programs under which organizations can apply for support. Some of these programs are exclusively funded by AFAR (such as the med student and biomedical research programs described above), while others involve partner organizations, such as the Arthritis National Research Foundation, the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Strokes, and some folks with Alzheimer's-specific interests. A full list of AFAR grant opportunities is available here.

Directing all this AFAR money is Lederman, who has had a long career in the nonprofit health sector. Previously, she served as executive director at the Children's Health Fund and the National Center for Health Education, and also held leadership roles at the American Red Cross in Greater New York, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the American Heart Association.

Lederman recently made an appearance in the New York Times, reacting to a National Research Council/Institute of Medicine report detailing how terrible the American health-care system is relative to its counterparts in other wealthy countries. Lederman's concern: understanding how people who actually get to age 85 "enjoy such exceptional longevity." If we can get a handle on that, according to Lederman, perhaps we can provide hope for the Americans under 50 who are currently looking at lower life expectancies than their counterparts in other countries.