IOA Pilot Research Grantees 2006
Four grants awarded supporting pilot projects in aging-related research within the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing
The IOA Pilot Grant program, now in its third year, is a highly valued component of the IOA, serving to support new faculty entering the field of aging and to stimulate multi-disciplinary projects that focus the diverse expertise at the University of Pennsylvania toward aging research. In doing so, the IOA aims to foster the exploration of new directions in the field of aging on a broader scale. This year, the Pilot Grant program awarded three research projects within the School of Medicine and, for the first time, co-sponsored a Pilot Grant with the School of Nursing.
The IOA Pilot Grant program provides initial support in both basic science and clinical areas in aging for investigators engaged in biomedical, epidemiological, behavioral or health services research. A salient goal is to assist PENN faculty in obtaining preliminary data to serve as the basis for grant applications to the NIH or other public or private agencies concerned with aging.
Minghong Ma, PhD
Department of Neuroscience
"Peripheral mechanisms of olfactory dysfunction in aging"
Olfactory problems (problems related to the sense of smell) are very common, especially among elderly people. However, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Olfactory loss is also an early clinical sign in a number of age-related neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. The detection and discrimination power of the olfactory system fundamentally depends on the olfactory receptors expressed in the nose, which comprise the largest gene family in the mammalian genome. Dr. Ma’s project will focus on the peripheral mechanisms underlying smell loss. By combining molecular (genechip and in situ hybridization) and physiological (patch clamp) approaches, Dr. Ma’s team will study how the expression levels of the olfactory receptors and the sensitivities of the olfactory sensory neurons change with age, two major factors defining the odor detection thresholds. A better understanding of olfactory dysfunction will lead to a better diagnosis and treatment of smell problems, which will help to improve life quality of the elderly.
Karen Hirschman, PhD, MSW
Research Assistant Professor
School of Nursing
"Improving advance care planning for dementia patients and their family members”
Planning for the future will be especially challenging for patients with dementia because they will gradually lose their ability to make decisions for themselves, requiring others, often family members, to make decisions for them. The emotional, physical, and economic impact on family members left to make decisions for their relative can be overwhelming. Few data exist on whether people who develop dementia value advance care planning. Therefore, the goal of Dr. Hirschman’s project is to survey persons in the early stages of dementia and their family members to identify what aspects of advance care planning are most important to them and to identify what information would assist these individuals to navigate discussions about advance care planning. This will enable health care providers and legal professionals to better prepare patients with early stage dementia and their family members to plan for the future.
Mark S. Forman, MD, PhD
Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
“Frontotemporal dementia and tissue microarrays: A novel method for identification of pathology-specific molecular probes for diagnostic and therapeutic applications”
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one of the common age-dependent neurodegenerative diseases accounting for up to 20% of patients with presenile dementia. The clinical syndromes of FTD are well-documented, characterized by a progressive change in behavior and/or language function. In contrast, there are numerous distinct neuropathological entities associated with the clinical features of FTD. Thus, there is a tremendous need for biomarkers that accurately predict pathology. To this end, significant progress has made towards developing small molecule probes for imaging senile plaques, one of the principal pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. In this pilot study, Dr. Forman and his team will apply the novel application of tissue microarrays (TMA) to neurodegenerative disease and FTD. These microarrays can then be analyzed using a variety of conventional methodologies, and thus allow the simultaneous analysis of up to 1000 tissue samples under identical, standardized conditions on a single microscope slide. Recently, Dr. Forman’s lab developed and validated the use of TMA technology to qualitatively and quantitatively represent the key diagnostic pathological features of a large group of neurodegenerative diseases. In this project, Dr. Forman will apply this novel application of TMA technology to identify molecular probes that could serve as biomarkers to distinguish the clinical syndrome of FTD.
Jalpa Doshi, PhD
Health Services Research Scientist
General Internal Medicine
"Impact of cost sharing on medication use in elderly patients with multiple chronic conditions”
Prescription drugs are an important component of medical care for all elderly patients; yet almost 25% of the Medicare beneficiaries lack drug coverage. Numerous studies suggest that the lack of drug coverage lowers medication usage among the elderly. The new Medicare drug benefit, which begins January 2006, will offer voluntary drug coverage to all Medicare beneficiaries. However, the cost-sharing structure of the drug benefit has several elements that may create barriers to optimal medication usage. In particular, beneficiaries who will face high out-of-pocket drug costs under the new benefit will be at risk for making poor medication choices. This study will use a private insurance claims data set of active and retired employees aged 65 years or older to examine the impact of different cost-sharing structures on medication use and adherence among elderly patients with multiple chronic conditions.