The Centers provide leadership in the pursuit of basic research into the biology of aging. They do so through a Research Development Core which administers small start-up funds locally, and organizes national annual meetings to highlight specific areas of research. In addition, each Nathan Shock Center has several specialized cores that provide services to Shock Center members, as well as for-fee services to the community at large. The cores are different in each Center, depending on the strengths of each Institution.

The American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) serves as the coordinating center for this program.