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Nine HCaP faculty members earn seed funding for research
Nine HCaP faculty members earn seed funding for research

June 1, 2021 — Faculty members across seven disciplines have earned seed funding for their various research projects. Several of these projects are cross-disciplinary, furthering HCaP’s mission to use trans-disciplinary work to affect change.

The HCaP Seed Funding Program had a great response from faculty members,” said Erica Sosa, Assistant Dean for Research. “We received several competitive proposals and an interdisciplinary committee with representation from all HCaP departments, centers and institutes reviewed and scored the grants. We are excited to see these projects implemented and subsequently lead to external funding for continuing these research lines.”


Itamar LernerThe Effects of Sleep on the Formation of False Composite Memories
Itamar Lerner, Psychology

A growing body of evidence from the last two decades suggests that sleep plays a significant role in the consolidation of memory. In particular, a deep-sleep stage known as Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) was shown to induce reorganization of encoded information from the previous day, though the exact mechanism remains unknown. In a new pilot study from Dr. Lerner’s lab, the temporal scaffolding hypothesis received experimental support using a novel behavioral paradigm, the “false composite memory task”. While our pilot results supported the idea that SWS contributes to the integration of disparate memories, they do not directly prove the involvement of memory replay. To establish this relation, we need to manipulate the presumed replay process. One method to do that is Targeted Memory Reaction (TMR). In TMR experiments, auditory stimuli are associated with memories during wake, and then reapplied during SWS. The application of these auditory stimulations is assumed to increase reactivation of their associated memories beyond the naturally occurring endogenous replay, thus enhancing the consolidation of these memories. Our aim in the current experiment is to employ TMR in our behavioral paradigm to establish that replay during SWS is the mechanism responsible for memory integration leading to false composite memories. This study will a) provide a strong link between memory reactivation during SWS and the formation of false composite memories, thus advancing our understanding of how sleep facilitates memory reorganization; b) pave the way to understanding how to manipulate false composite memories.

Emily NicklettConstrained choices: Examining the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health-promoting behavior for older adults of color
Emily Nicklett, Social Work

The disparate impacts of COVID-19 on the longevity of older adults of color, relative to younger and non-Hispanic White populations, has received attention in academic and non-academic circles alike. Less understood, however, are the unequal impacts of COVID-19 on health-promoting behaviors of older adults of color, including those residing in communities of color. The objective of this proposed research is to examine the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has constrained opportunities for older adults—particularly older adults of color—to engage in health-promoting behavior, with a focus on diet, physical activity, and diabetes self-management. In addition to examining strains on behaviors experienced by individuals, this research will assess differences in access to food and physical activity infrastructure, according to race/ethnicity of individuals and the racial/ethnic characteristics of the communities in which they reside. Community, Neighborhood, and County-Level Data: Access to food, physical activity infrastructure, and other contextual data will be derived from multiple data sources. The study will help identify how diet, physical activity, and diabetes self-management contribute to the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults of color, including those residing in predominantly non-White communities. This will be a significant achievement because the mechanisms through which pandemics and other disruptions exacerbate racial/ethnic health inequities—a public health crisis—are not well understood. The novel data generated from this project is expected to lay the groundwork for a larger project that would move the field forward considerably.

Tianou ZhangAnti-inflammatory and Anti-atrophic Effects of Bioactive Compound in Extra Virgin Olive Oil on Inflammation-induced Muscle Atrophy in Skeletal Muscle Cells
Tianou Zhang, Kinesiology

Exercise and nutrition scientists are interested in which plant bioactive compounds can demonstrate antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to improve skeletal muscle health. One commonly observed skeletal muscle health issue in diverse populations is skeletal muscle atrophy, characterized as reduced muscle mass and power, due to bed-rest after injuries, denervation and sarcopenia. The proposed study aims to investigate the anti-inflammatory and anti-atrophic effects of bioactive compound Oleocanthal in Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) on inflammation-induced muscle atrophy in skeletal muscle cells (SMC). Oleocanthal (OLC) is a natural bioactive compound found in extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). Though OLC is shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-proliferative activities in pre-clinical and clinical studies, no evidence showed the health benefits in skeletal muscles, especially muscle atrophy induced by chronic inflammation. The study will elucidate the roles of inflammation and oxidative stress in the development of muscle atrophy, which is a prevalent public health issue in older adults. The study funded by the HCaP pilot grant will provide the pilot data on the benefits of a novel natural bioactive compound in EVOO on skeletal muscle health. The findings will support the applications of complementary medicine (e.g. natural products, supplements, exercise) on aging-related chronic conditions.

Profiling the Changes Associated with Healthy Aging at The Molecular, Cellular and Organism Level After Exposure to A 12-Week Five Animal Frolics, Chinese Qigong Mind-Body Exercise Program: A Pilot Study

Zenong YinSarah UllevigTianou ZhangWilliam Land

Zenong Yin, Public Health; Sarah Ullevig, Dietetics and Nutrition; William Land, Kinesiology, Tianou Zhang, Kinesiology

There is an increased interest by Americans in mind-body exercise from now-western regions and cultures, which has been deemed as safe, beneficial, and cost-effective therapeutic forms of complementary and alternative medicine in the last 20 years. A growing number of controlled randomized trials (RCTs) have demonstrated that mind-body exercise (e.g., Qigong, Yoga) can lead to clinically significant benefits in physical and cognitive function, cardiometabolic and inflammatory response, body composition, mental health, and quality of life in older adults with chronic health conditions. Research comparing the effectiveness of conventional exercise and mind-body exercise in healthy aging is still forthcoming. Furthermore, less is known of the acceptance and effectiveness of Chinese Qigong in low-income and minority populations in community settings in U.S. This study will pilot an innovative research protocol to collect comprehensive behavioral and biological data that profiles the changes associated with healthy aging at the molecular, cellular and organism level after exposure to a Chinese Qigong mind-body exercise (Five Animal Frolics; Five Animal Play in Chinese). With our comprehensive data collection protocol including the innovative metabolomic-based approach, our transdisciplinary team will contribute to understanding the response to conventional and mind-body exercise at the organism and cellular level and to identify the molecular mechanisms that are responsible for the adaptive process and variation among individuals to optimize the healthy aging process.

Katelyn SileoCorey SparksSpatial epidemiology of HIV, alcohol misuse, partner violence, and risky sexual behavior in South Africa: An assessment of the utility of the syndemic conceptual model
Katelyn Sileo, Public Health; Corey Sparks, Demography

The interconnection between HIV risk and other health epidemics is well established. In South Africa, one of the countries with the highest rates of HIV prevalence globally, the burden of alcohol misuse and intimate partner violence (IPV) are equally high. Known as the “SAVA syndemic” (i.e., substance abuse, violence, AIDS), these conditions tend to cluster together in vulnerable populations, but beyond being comorbidities, these three health conditions have synergistic or interacting effects on each other and on other health outcomes. Spatial epidemiology has been underutilized in examining this syndemic, but can provide important insight into the co-occurrence of these conditions and their effect on HIV risk. This project will use the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) dataset from 2016 to assess the syndemic association of these three health outcomes. The overall objective of our proposed project is to examine the pathways, interacting relationships, and geospatial associations between alcohol misuse, IPV, risky sexual behaviors, and HIV among a population-based sample of South African women and men.

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