Description of the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study

 The History of the Maine Syracuse Study

Merrill F. Elias, PhD, MPH (Director) mfelias@maine.edu

Michael A. Robbins, PhD (co-Director) mar@umit.edu

The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) of aging, cardiovascular disease and cognitive performance has had its home in the Department of Psychology at the University of Maine since 1976. Participants of the study include persons of all adult ages living in the communities represented by central New York. One must follow longitudinal subjects wherever they go, and thus the study now includes former residents of central New York who live in Maine and many other states. Longitudinal study (following the same individuals at prescribed intervals over time) is the ideal design for the study of aging.

Professors Merrill Elias and Michael Robbins have been director and co-director respectively of the study for most of its years in Maine. Details of the study are as follows. Professor Elias is a psychologist and a cardiovascular epidemiologist and Professor Robbins brings his expertise in social psychology and health psychology to the project.

While at Syracuse University, Professor Elias (PI) and Professor of Medicine W.H. P. Streeten (co-PI) wrote the initial grant supporting the collection of baseline data.  The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and subsequently transferred to the University of Maine where it received funding from NIA and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of NIH for nearly 35 years. Supplementary funding from these sources allowed the MSLS to collaborate with the Framingham Heart Study on many investigations and papers. In 1990 it received a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award from the NIA and in 2000 it expanded from a study of hypertension (high blood pressure) and cognitive functioning to a study of cardiovascular disease and cognitive functioning.

The MSLS has a rich data base. There are from one to seven longitudinal waves of data available for over 2000 community participants on risk factors for cardiovascular disease, clinical cognitive performance measures, and personality and lifestyle measures.  Recent waves of the study include many psychosocial variables, demographic variables, information on medications, and extensive data on cardiovascular risk factors and events such as diabetes, stroke, obesity, smoking, homocysteine, APOE e4 genotype, nutrition, and self-reported activity level.

The data base is open for research to Maine faculty and students as well as investigators at other institutions who are approved by the study directors and MSLS research committee and meet NIH and University of Maine requirements for research.  Current activities are directed toward improving the data base so that it may be more widely used by researchers at the University of Maine and elsewhere (data archiving).

The study involves collaborations at Oxford University, the University of Birmingham, England, the University of South Australia, Temple University, The Center for Public Research in Luxembourg, the University of Virginia, the University of Southern California, and other US institutions.

Recently contracted formalized research agreements between the University of Maine, the Center for Public Research, the Duchy of Luxembourg, and the Nutrition Center at the University of South Australia has allowed us to expand the MSLS data base with data on nutrition and diet. At this point in time, 135 peer reviewed publications have resulted from this study, 24 employing Framingham Heart Study data in collaborative studies (For full list of publications, click here).

Professor Elias was Associate Professor of Psychology and Associate Director of Research at Syracuse University prior to joining the faculty at UMaine. He served on the first Aging Review Committee of the National Institute on Aging and the Human Development and Aging Study section of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Robbins has been a researcher in aging and health at the University of Maine for more than 30 years. Professors Elias and Robbins are collaborating professors in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering.