Announcing the CUIMC Healthy Aging Initiative

Dear Colleagues,

One happy consequence of our shared work is the generational advance of human health and longevity. Human beings are now living longer than at any point in history, and we can celebrate the fact that lifespans have doubled over the last 100 years. We also know that societies around the globe are unprepared to optimize the potential of this booming population of older adults. The challenges of providing this population with the opportunity to age healthily, have financial security, and remain vital in their communities all remain before us. There is essential work to be done to expand our “health spans”—years of healthy life—to match our longer lifespans.  

In April 2021, Dr. Anil K. Rustgi convened a CUIMC faculty initiative on aging to identify long-term research goals for increasing healthy longevity. Meetings were held with investigators in aging research across CUIMC’s four schools. Dr. Linda P. Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health and director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, and Dr. Gérard Karsenty, chair of the Department of Genetics and Development, guided the process. All told, more than 100 faculty from across the University contributed to a CUIMC-wide vision for promoting happier, healthier aging, along with recommendations for the institutional investments required to advance these goals. A top priority recognized by the working group assembled by Dr. Rustgi is the pressing need to address severe inequities in healthy aging across income levels and different racial and ethnic groups.

Today, I am writing to share the preliminary report on these discussions and to announce the formal launch of the CUIMC Healthy Aging Initiative, to be located within the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, a University-wide center housed at the Mailman School of Public Health. The initiative will be led by Dean Fried and will be guided by a steering committee comprised of Drs. Allison Aiello, Gregory Alexander, Daniel Belsky, Alan Cohen, Gérard Karsenty, Ian Kronish, Carol Kunzel, José Luchsinger, Jennifer Manly, Emmanuelle Passegué, Muredach Reilly, Christiane Reitz, Scott Small, and Yousin Suh. I want to thank Dean Fried and each of the committee members for their participation in this important, interdisciplinary project. By design, the initiative will involve the faculty of all four schools at CUIMC and will draw on the leadership of each of my fellow Deans. My hope is that this project will serve as a model for future efforts that convene the medical center’s full scholarly and clinical expertise.

Last year, Dean Fried co-chaired the U.S. National Academy of Medicine’s (NAM) international commission of experts on healthy longevity, with Columbia faculty members Drs. John Rowe and John Beard serving as commission members and Dr. Maureen Henry serving as NAM’s program officer for the Commission report. NAM has since published the Commission’s Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity, which highlights immediate and longitudinal solutions to promote true health longevity and encourages an “all-of-society approach” to develop these remedies. This collective expertise will helpfully inform the CUIMC Healthy Aging Initiative and allow for synergies that expand the reach of our work.

My personal thanks to Drs. Rustgi, Fried, and Karsenty, our steering committee members, and all who contributed to the conversations that have shaped this initiative. I will be providing more details about programming and opportunities for participation as they become available. This is an exciting time to consider how our community will contribute to healthier, more fruitful lives for older adults, and I hope you share my enthusiasm for imagining the possibilities.

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD
Dean of the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences, Columbia University