Addressing Grand Challenges of Aging through Multidisciplinary Seed Grants

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Arizona University of Health Sciences recently announced five new recipients of an Innovations in Healthy Aging Seed Grant, designed to support research that targets diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s disease and skin cancer, addresses health issues related to optimal aging, such as loneliness, distress, and thermal comfort, and expands communities and activities for older adults.

Each “Grand Challenges in Healthy Aging” project will receive up to $100,000 from Innovations in Healthy Aging, a campus-wide strategic initiative of UArizona Health Sciences that brings together experts from different specialties to address opportunities and challenges of an aging population.

“We want to build on the existing aging strengths that we have as an institution and enhance them in a variety of ways to create an age-friendly university that interacts closely with our community,” said Esther M. Sternberg, MD, associate director of biomedical and environmental research for Innovations in Healthy Aging and professor of medicine at UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson. “The Seed Grants are one way we can do this by encouraging and supporting researchers across the university to collaborate and focus their attention on issues related to optimal aging.”

The five funded proposals emerged from a “Grand Challenges in Healthy Aging Research” workshop held in January. Grand Challenges Seed Grants will support the following projects and researchers:

  • “Virtual Experiences to Reduce Loneliness and Psychosocial Distress in Elderly Black Church Members” led by Kelly Palmer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Health Promotion Sciences, UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Co-investigators: Erika D. Gault, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Department of African Studies, Arizona College of Humanities; Bryan Carter, Ph.D.Associate Professor, Department of African Studies, College of Humanities
  • “Exploring and Identifying the Communities Where I Belong: Arts-Based, Person-Centered Bookmaking Workshop” led by Yumi Shirai, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, College of Medicine – Tucson. Co-investigators: Lynne T. Tomasa, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, College of Medicine – Tucson; Jennie M. Gubner, PhDAssistant Professor, Fred Fox School of Music, UArizona College of Fine Arts
  • “Management of personal thermal comfort and minimized building energy consumption via exposure to ambient light for optimal thermal comfort in the elderly” directed by Qing Hao, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Arizona College of Engineering. Co-investigators: Johnny Ray Runyon, PhDAssistant Research Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Altaf A. Engineer, PhDAssistant Professor, School of Architecture, Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture; Matthias R. Mehl, PhDProfessor, Department of Psychology, Arizona College of Science; Gustavo de Oliveira Almeida, PhDCoordinator, UArizona Health Sciences Sensor Lab; Karen E. Parker, MD, PhDClinical Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, College of Medicine – Tucson
  • “Tumour-specific T cell responses in skin cancer with aging” led by Karen Hastings, MD, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Basic Medical Sciences, UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. Co-investigator: Janko Nikolich-Žugich, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Immunobiology, College of Medicine – Tucson
  • “Language Processing in Alzheimer’s Disease Combining Behavioral Therapy with Noninvasive Neuromodulation Informed by Measures of Neural Reactivity” directed by Aneta Kielar, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, College of Science and Fellow of the BIO5 Institute. Co-investigators: Pelagie Beeson, PhD, CCC-SLPProfessor, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, College of Science; Steven Rapcsak, MDAssociate Research Professor, Department of Neurology, College of Medicine – Tucson; Kindle Rising, MS, CCC-SLPResearch Speech-Language Pathologist, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, College of Science; Dianne K. Patterson, Ph.D.neuroimaging researcher, UArizona Office of Research, Innovation and Impact

Over the past year, Innovations in Healthy Aging has supported 14 projects with seed funding totaling $646,167. The aim is to enable researchers to collect pilot data for use in external funding applications to large national organizations.

Kathleen Insel, PhD, RN, is acting dean of the UArizona College of Nursing and director of Innovations in Healthy Aging. “We are committed to funding the necessary foundational and preliminary work so that we can seek further extramural funding with a focus on aging,” said Kathleen Insel, Ph.D., RN, director of Innovations in Healthy Aging and acting dean of the UArizona College of Nursing. “I am grateful for the efforts Dr. Sternberg and the Research Advisory Board have made to ensure that these Seed Grants are for impactful projects.”

Three projects were selected in an initial round of $75,000 Healthy Aging Seed Grants provided by UArizona Health Sciences. Three other projects were supported with funding from the initiative after Zhao Chen, PhD, MPHProfessor Emeritus and Acting Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Zuckerman College of Public Health and Fellow of the BIO5 Institute, has issued a Call for Behavioral Science Proposals.

A separate series of “living lab” seed grants funded three projects focused on healthy aging in the built environment. The idea was to encourage researchers to integrate wearable sensors to measure the impact of different aspects of the environment on different aspects of the health, well-being and performance of older people.

“We are achieving what we set out to achieve when we started a year ago,” said Dr. Sternberg, director of research at the College of Medicine – Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson and a fellow at the Institute. BIO5. “We are stimulating interdisciplinary research in various aspects of healthy aging, and we have new researchers coming into the fold.”

In addition to Drs. Sternberg and Insel, the Innovations in Healthy Aging Research Advisory Committee includes: Mindy Fain, MDProfessor and Anne and Alden Hart Chair in Medicine, College of Medicine – Tucson, and Co-Director, Arizona Center on Aging; Jim Buizer, Ph.D.Associate Director, Aegis Consortium, and Professor, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Rebekah Coskun, DrPHResearch Development Attaché, Office of Research, Innovation and Impact; Gustavo de Oliveira Almeida, PhDCoordinator, Sensor Lab; Jordan Karp, MDDepartment Chair and Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine – Tucson; Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, PhDDean, College of Architecture, Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture; Janet Meiling Roveda, PhDProfessor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering and Fellow of the BIO5 Institute; Robert Wilson, Ph.D.Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Science.

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