NIH Awards the USC School of Pharmacy and Price School of Public Policy a 5-Year Grant to Support Minority Aging Research in the Schaeffer Center

By Stephanie Hedt

The National Institute on Aging awarded the USC School of Pharmacy and the Price School of Public Policy a $2.7 million, five-year grant to fund a USC Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR), housed within the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics.

The USC Minority Aging and Health Economics Research Center was originally established at the USC Schaeffer Center in 2012. Funding from NIH is supplemented with support from the Price School of Public Policy and the School of Pharmacy, partners in the Schaeffer Center, and the USC Office of Research. Since its launch, the USC RCMAR has funded eighteen junior researchers.

Focus on Mentoring the Next Generation of Aging Researchers

The USC RMCAR, led by Julie Zissimopoulos and Dana Goldman, pairs senior faculty mentors with junior scholars. The selected scientists are provided funding for a one-year pilot project focusing on health disparities, healthcare availability, and health outcomes as they relate to aging in minority populations. In addition to project guidance, the junior investigators are given access to extensive data and analytical support available at the Schaeffer Center.

“These awards are especially impactful in launching the careers of young scientists, while simultaneously providing an opportunity for pivotal research on pressing societal issues,” said Vassilios Papadopoulos, dean of the USC School of Pharmacy.

Alumni of the program have successfully won competitive grants and published extensively in the years following the completion of the RCMAR project. For example, among the nine scientists who finished their RCMAR year at least two years ago, seven have received additional funding.

“As they grow in numbers, American senior citizens are facing unprecedented and complex health issues, many of which disproportionately affect minority populations, “ said Dean Jack H. Knott, USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. “With the impressive award to the Schaeffer Center, our scholars are effecting positive change for some of the most hard-pressed communities, closing disturbing health disparities.”

Notably, among those who have received additional funding, three scholars received NIH career development awards totaling over $3 million to continue their work focused on minority aging. Alumni of the program have amassed a record of published papers with 133 in peer-reviewed journals and have 12 forthcoming publications.

“Scholars in USC’s program have helped elucidate the links between chronic disease and minority status and – even more importantly – identify pathways to mitigate the burden in underrepresented groups,” said Goldman.

Cleopatra Abdou, a 2012-2013 RCMAR scholar, conducted pioneering research on how healthcare stereotyping effects healthcare utilization and potentially impacts outcomes of patients from minority backgrounds. Abdou found patients who felt vulnerable to prejudices in a healthcare system based on a variety of factors including race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status had worse health outcomes and were more likely to report being distrustful of their doctors than non-minority patients.

“The USC RCMAR and the national RCMAR community of scholars have been instrumental in my career success. The program has provided an important formal avenue through which I have had access to the world’s best scholars and mentors in the field of minority aging,” reflected Abdou. “From pilot funding, to a diversity supplement to the USC RCMAR, to a National Institute on Aging K01, to my most recent award–an R21 from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities–the RCMAR training, resources, and community have been invaluable in helping me to create a strong trajectory for my research program.”

Scholars Focus on Disparities in Alzheimer’s Disease

The new funding will specifically support Center work on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Projects will focus on racial and ethnic differences in risk, diagnosis, and treatment as well as recognizing opportunities for prevention and caregiver support across diverse populations.

The scientists selected this year include:

  • Alice Chen, assistant professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy, studying the impact of accountable care organizations on minority populations with dementia and other chronic conditions.
  • Reginald D. Tucker-Seeley, assistant professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, researching racial and ethnic disparities in financial hardship following a diagnosis of cancer or dementia.
  • Sze-Chuan Suen, assistant professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, assessing HIV prevention benefits accrued in old age.

These scholars were chosen from a highly competitive applicant pool. They each show significant potential to advance the scholarship of minority aging research.

“I am a new faculty member at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and a faculty affiliate of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, and the opportunity to engage with the multidisciplinary group of scholars in the RCMAR across the university was the primary reason I applied for a pilot project grant,” said Tucker-Seeley. Tucker-Seeley is a recognized expert for his research on social determinants of health across the life course.

The National Institute on Aging National RCMAR Program

The National Institute on Aging is one of 27 institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health. The RCMAR program is a national initiative aimed at improving the health of minority populations. An important mission of the program is enhancing the diversity of the aging research workforce by mentoring promising scientists from under-represented groups.

This funding cycle, which represents a significant expansion of the program from 7 to 18 national sites, includes a particular focus: social and behavioral science related to Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.

More information about the USC RCMAR program, including application information, can be found here. In addition to the USC RCMAR program, the Schaeffer Center offers a variety of fellowship and training opportunities for researchers at various stages in their career. More information about these programs can be found here.