Description of the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study

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

Michael A. Robbins, PhD (co-Director) robbins@maine.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 in the study are persons from the entire adult age-span living in the communities represented by central New York. One must follow longitudinal study subjects wherever they go, and thus the MSLS now includes former residents of central New York who live in Maine and many other states. The longitudinal study paradigm (following the same individuals at prescribed intervals over time) is the ideal design for the study of aging.

The first studies were performed in collaboration between Merrill F. Elias and Professor of Medicine, David H.P. Streeten at what is now State University of New York Health Sciences Center, Syracuse New York.  Grant support for this study was transferred from Syracuse University to the University of Maine in 1977. The data analysis and control center resides at the University of Maine, but data collection has always involved the Central New York residents who entered the study at its inception in 1974 Hence the study was labeled the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study

Professors Merrill Elias and Michael Robbins have been principal and co-principal investigators respectively throughout the 40 years of MSLS presence at the University of Maine. 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 initially 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 published 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 risk factors and cognitive functioning.

The MSLS has a rich data base. There are seven longitudinal waves of data available for over 1000 community participants and cross-sectional data are available on over 2000 study participants. These data include risk factors for cardiovascular disease, data on 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 (More details about the MSLS Design).

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.

At this point in time, 135 peer reviewed publications have resulted from this study, 24 employing Framingham Heart Study data in collaboration with Framingham Heart Study investigators (For full list of publications, click here).

Professor Elias was Associate Director of Research at Syracuse University’s “All University Gerontology Center” prior to joining the faculty at the University of Maine.  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 40 years and is currently chairperson of the Department of Psychology.

Professors Elias and Robbins are collaborating professors in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering and offer laboratory experience in the cardiovascular epidemiology of aging and cognition.