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Center for Health in Aging announces 2023 pilot project awards
Clinician advises a patient

The Emory Center for Health in Aging has announced three innovative pilot projects selected to receive up to $45,000 each for one year of study. The projects, which are designed to spark new collaborations and harness the creative potential of the Emory community, are a key tenant of the center’s mission to promote well-being among older adults. The selected projects represent multiple domains of innovation in aging across Emory.

“From evaluating novel robot-assisted strategies to promote physical activity, to evaluating a novel drug treatment's potential to slow the aging process, to gaining insights about strategies to predict outcomes in cancer care, this year's pilot awardees exemplify the broad spectrum of translational research within the Woodruff Health Sciences Center.” says Dr. Camille Vaughan, director of the Center for Health in Aging.

The 2023 pilot projects are: 

Zesty Exercise System for Training (ZEST) Older Adults in Fun Exercise,”awarded to Madeleine Hackney, PhD

This pilot proposes the development of a novel robot-assisted exercise game system for improved physical fitness and activity levels among older adults with the long-term goal of widespread at-home use for promoting accessibility

Hackney is an associate professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at Emory School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine, where she leads the Hackney Neurokinesiology Laboratory. She is also a research scientist at the Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Dr. Charlie Kemp, associate professor of biomedical engineering and founder of the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech, and Dr. Meredith Wells, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at Emory School of Medicine, are collaborators.

“The effects of psilocybin on oxidative stress, inflammation, and aging,” awarded to Louise Hecker, PhD and Ali Zarrabi, MD

Hecker and Zarrabi’s groundbreaking research has dual aims of evaluating the short-term effects of psilocybin treatment in human patients on inflammation, oxidative stress and cellular aging as well as assessing the in vitro effects of psilocybin on those same biomarkers as a means of slowing aging at a molecular level.

Hecker is an associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine and leads the Hecker Lab at Emory School of Medicine. Zarrabi is an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory School of Medicine and a palliative care physician in the Division of Palliative Medicine.

“Function and Prognostic Role of CD28-Negative Cells in Older Patients with Head and Neck Cancer,” awarded to Nicole Schmitt, MD

Estimates predict that 70% of all patients diagnosed with cancer will be aged 65 and older by 2030. This pilot seeks to characterize the functional phenotype of CD28-negative T cells from older patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Additionally, Schmitt aims to determine whether the proportion of CD28-negative T cells can predict survival without disease progression as a critical biomarker in surgically treated older adults with HNSCC.

Schmitt is an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Emory School of Medicine and serves as co-director for translational research in the head and neck program at Winship Cancer Institute.

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