Home » Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC) » Cores » Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core (PESC)

Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core (PESC)

The overall objective of the Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core (PESC) of the Duke OAIC is to conduct pilot studies that inform the selection, design, and conduct of subsequent larger, hypothesis-driven research in our theme:
To understand and optimize reserve and resilience

The Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core emphasizes physiological reserve at the cell/tissue/organ level, which we hypothesize is a key contributor to resilience at the whole person level.

AIMS of the Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core
  1. To advance top quality science related to late-life reserve and resilience
  2. To attract and nurture a diverse cadre of outstanding early investigators in aging research or established investigators pursuing promising new directions related to our theme
  3. To build and sustain relationships with critical stakeholders to maximize the impact and translation of the work conducted through this and future OAICs
NOW Open! Duke Pepper Center 2019 Pilot Studies Award RFA for Funding in Aging Research NOTE: NIH Biosketch due Nov 1, 2019/Decision March 2020/Funding received Summer 2020
Duke Pepper Center Pilot Studies Award: The objective of this solicitation is to seek the highest quality pilot studies in aging research from within Duke University Medical Center. The scope of the Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core includes, but is not limited to, feasibility studies (i.e., for interventions or other research methodology), development of new methodologies or technologies, analysis of existing data, and exploration of high risk but innovative ideas. We are especially interested in studies that relate to our focus: Enhancing Physical Reserve and Resilience to Promote Recovery from Late Life Stressors.

The duration of the pilot study may be for one or two years. The budget request for pilot studies is $25,000 – $40,000 per year in direct costs.

[Download Pilot Studies Award RFA]

Heather E. Whitson, MD, MHS
Associate Professor of Medicine & Ophthalmology
Director, Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development

Dr. Whitson’s research is focused on improving care and health outcomes for people with multiple chronic conditions. In particular, she has interest and expertise related to the link between changes in the eye and brain (e.g., Why do cognitive and brain changes occur in the context of late-life vision loss? Is Alzheimer’s Disease associated with distinctive changes in the retina, and could such changes help diagnose Alzheimer’s early in its course?). She has developed a novel rehabilitation model for people with co-existing cognitive deficits, and is part of an inter-disciplinary team seeking to improve peri-operative outcomes for frail or at-risk seniors who must undergo surgery. In 2018, Dr Whitson received the Thomas and Catherine Yoshikawa Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement in Clinical Investigation from the American Geriatrics Society.

William E. Kraus, MD
Richard and Pat Johnson University Professor of Medicine
Director of Clinical Translation, DMPI

One focus of my group’s work is to understand the cellular signaling mechanisms underlying the normal adaptive responses of skeletal muscle to physiologic stimuli, such as occur in exercise conditioning, and to understand the abnormal maladaptive responses that occur in response to pathophysiologic stimuli, such as occur in congestive heart failure, aging and prolonged exposure to microgravity. Recently we have begun to investigate interactions of genes and lifestyle interventions on cardiometabolic outcomes. We have experience with clinical lifestyle intervention studies, particularly the contributions of genetic variants to interventions responses. We call this Lifestyle Medicopharmacogenetics. In February 2018, Dr Kraus was elected President-Elect of the American College of Sports Medicine. He will serve as President for a year commencing June 2019.

David Bartlett, PhD (Dept. of Medicine, Division of Medical Oncology)
Exercise training to promote resilience in chronic lymphocytic leukemia in older patients by enhancing physical and immunological reserve

  1. His laboratory studies the effects of exercise and energy balance on immune function and physiology of patient groups including cancer, arthritis and diabetes. His research program is focused on human studies employing a wide range of techniques including human physiological testing such as cardiopulmonary fitness assessment, exercise training to in vitro and ex vivo cellular assays.

Anna Mae Diehl, MD (Dept. of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology)
Aging Effects on Hepatocyte Reprogramming and Liver Repair

  1. The Diehl lab’s studies on liver regeneration in young adult rodents reveal a signaling network that controls adult-to-fetal and fetal-to-adult reprogramming in hepatocytes. These findings extend work by others showing that the Hippo Kinase (HK) pathway and its downstream target, Yap1, critically regulate regenerative reprogramming in hepatocytes. Moreover, long-lived somatic cells of organs that are inherently less resilient than the liver can be coaxed to undergo the adult-to-fetal reprogramming process that occurs naturally in adult hepatocytes when they activate endogenous Yap1 during a regenerative stress. The Diehl lab seeks to advance knowledge that ultimately can be applied to promote more favorable response to stressors in a variety of aging tissues.

Charity Oyedeji, MD (Dept. of Medicine, Hematology)
Focused geriatric assessment and biomarkers to determine physiologic resilience in older adults with sickle cell disease

  1. Older adults (defined herein as age ≥ 50 years) make up 13% of the adults with sickle cell disease cared for at The Duke Sickle Cell Center. This population has experienced a lifetime of sickling and microvascular occlusion that has an affect on every organ of the body. This often leads to a functional decline and premature aging. In this study we will be evaluating the feasibility of focused geriatric assessment in twenty older adults (age ≥ 50 years) with sickle cell disease, assessing the feasibility of a protocol to measure resilience of older adults with sickle cell disease after hospitalization, and estimating the variability of biomarkers of inflammation, coagulation, and longevity.

Mihai Podgoreanu, MD (Cardiothoracic Anesthesia and Critical Care)
Metabolic modifiers and rehabilitation phenotypes in older adults subjected to extracorporeal support

  1. Interests include: Systems biology approaches to modeling perioperative cardiovascular injury and adaptation; Mechanisms of perioperative myocardial injury; Functional genomics applied to perioperative myocardial injury; Metabolic consequences of perioperative myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury; Animal models and comparative genomic approaches to study perioperative myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury.
Miles Berger, MD Pre-operative Exercise to Enhance Resilience to Surgery in Older Adults
Amy McNulty, PhD Rejuvenation of Aging Chondrocytes to Enhance Reserve and Prevent Osteoarthritis
James White, Jr PhD The Role of Autophagy in Function of Aged Satellite Cells: Optimizing Muscle Reserve


James White, Jr PhD, Duke Molecular Physiology Institute (2016-2018)
The Role of Autophagy in Function of Aged Satellite Cells: Optimizing Muscle Reserve

Amy McNulty, PhD, Orthopedic Surgery (2015-2017)
Rejuvenation of Aging Chondrocytes to Enhance Reserve and Prevent Osteoarthritis

Miles Berger, MD, Anesthesiology (2015-2017)
Pre-operative Exercise to Enhance Resilience to Surgery in Older Adults

Dan Belsky, PhD, Geriatrics (2014-2016)
A Pilot Study to Identify Physiological Vulnerabilities to Accelerated Functional Decline
[Quantification of molecular signatures of resilience in aging]

Nancy Allen, MD, Rheumatology and Immunology
Metabolic effects of combined exercise on skeletal muscle in older adults

Farshid Guilak, PhD, Orthopedic Surgery and Cell Biology (2014-2016)
Epigenetic Modification of Stem Cells with Aging and Obesity

Susan Nichole Hastings, MD, Geriatrics (2014-2016)
Skeletal Muscle Mass and Strength Trajectories in Older Patients Hospitalized with Medical Illness

Matthew Hirschey, PhD, Chemistry and Biochemistry (2014-2016)
Determining the Role of Protein Quality Control in Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Disease in Aging

Kimberly Johnson, MD, Geriatrics (2014-2016)
Racial Differences in Outcomes of Older Adults Receiving Inpatient Palliative Care Consultation

Katherine Hall, PhD, Geriatrics (2013-ongoing)
Accelerometry Data for Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in Older Adults:
Data Processing and Analysis

Juliessa Pavon, MD, Geriatrics (2013-ongoing)
Improving Venous Thromboembolism Prophylaxis in Hospitalized Elders

John Stiber, MD, Cardiology (2013-2014)
Role of Protein Scaffolding in Sarcopenia

Cathleen Colon-Emeric, MD, Geriatrics (2011-2016)
Outcomes of Nursing Management Practices in Nursing Homes

Jason Allen, PhD (2011-2013)
Mechanisms and Functional Outcomes of Exercise Progression Models in the Elderly

Raquel R. Bartz, MD, Anesthesiology (2011-2013)
Role of Organ and Immune Cell Mitochondrial Biogenesis in Exercise-trained Old Mice
In Response to Staphylococcal Sepsis

Arati Rao, MD (2011-2013)
Linking Genomic Predictors of Frailty to Functional Status of Elderly Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Patients

Amy Pastva, PT, PhD, Physical Therapy (2009-2010)
Aerobic Exercising Training and Attenuation of the Susceptibility of Older Adults to Endotoxin-Induced Lung Injury
(Small Exploratory Study)

Tim Koves, PhD, Geriatrics (2009-2010)
Aging, Inflammatory Markers and Obesity
(Small Exploratory Study)

Helen Lum, MD, Geriatrics (2009-2010)
The Role of Oxidative Stress in Metabolism and Physical Performance
(Small Exploratory Study)

Virginia Kraus, MD, PhD, Rheumatology & Immunology (2009-2010)
Characterizing Age-related Post Translational Protein Modifications by Mass Spectroscopy
(Administrative Supplement)

Elizabeth Hauser, PhD, Genetics (2009-2010)
Identifying Epigenetic Targets of Aging and Atherosclerosis
(Administrative Supplement)

Jason Allen, PhD (2009-2010)
Elevated Plasma Nitrite via Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Its Effects
On Vascular Endothelial Function and Physical Function in the Elderly
(Small Exploratory Study)

Lee Jones, PhD (2009-2010)
Effect of Aerobic Training on Cardiopulmonary Function and Quality of Life
In Postsurgical Lung Cancer Patients
(Small Exploratory Study)

Jessica Chia, MD (2009-2010)
Role of Aging and Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in the Pathogenesis of Pulmonary Fibrosis
(Small Exploratory Study)

David Madden, PhD, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (2009-2010)
Neuronal Dysregulation and Disintegration in Function in Frail Older Adults
(Small Exploratory Study)

Greg Sempowski, PhD (2009-2010)
Impact of Zoledronic Acid on Immune Function in Aged and Young Mice
(Small Exploratory Study)

Tim Koves, PhD, Geriatrics (2009-2010)
The Relationship of Gait to Age, Muscle Strength and Endurance in a Mouse Model
With Partially Blunted of Fatty Acid Oxidation
(Small Exploratory Study)

Kelli Dominick Allen, PhD, General Internal Medicine (2008-10)
Strength and Gait Training for Older Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis and Varus Malalignment

Beverly H. Brummett, PhD, Psychiatry (2008-10)
Positive Emotion and Functioning in Older Adults

William M. Foster, PhD, (2008-10)
Genetic Factors and Differential Response of the Elderly to Ozone:
Effects on Lung Function, and Epithelial Integrity

Svati H. Shah, MD, MHS, Epidemiology, Medical Genomics (2006-2007, 2007-2008)
Gene-Environment Interactions in Aging, Functional Decline and Disease

James T. Cavenaugh, PT, PhD (2006-2007, 2007-2008)
Executive Function and Ambulatory Activity in Older Adults

Deborah Muoio, PhD (2006-2007, 2007-2008)
Lipid Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Age-Related Insulin Resistance

Kimberly Johnson, MD (2004-2005)
Cultural Differences in End-of-Life Care: The African-American Experience

Keith S. Kaye, MD, MPH, Infectious Diseases (2003-2004)
Hospital-Acquired Infections in the Elderly

David Seo, MD (2002-2003)
Gene Expression Profiling of Murine Models of Atherosclerosis

Susan Hedayati, MD (2002-2003)
Depression and Outcomes in Patients with End-Stage Renal Disease on Hemodialysis

Dennis Turner, MD, Surgery and Neurobiology (2002-2003)
Outcome Analysis of Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy

Maragatha Kuchibhatla, PhD, Geriatrics (2002-2003)
Use of Classification Trees in the Diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia

Beverly Fermor, PhD (2001-2002)
The Role of Age on Mechanical Stress Induced Changes in Matrix Turnover in Articular Cartilage

David F. Lobach, MD, PhD, MS, Clinical Informatics (2001-2002)
Web-Based Patient Recruiting for Clinical Trials

Virginia Kraus, MD (2001-2002)
Roles of Age on Mechanical Stress

Gregory Taylor, PhD (2000-2001)
Effectiveness of PspA Pneumococcal Vaccines in Aged Mice

Silke A. Schmidt, PhD (2000-2001)
Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Mitchell Heflin, MD, Geriatrics (2000-2001)
Survey of Providers on Cancer Screening in the Elderly

Sandhya A. Lagoo-Deenadayalan, MD (2000-2001)
Aging and Immune Response to Surgical Stress and Sepsis

Dhaval Kumar Patel, MD (2000-2001)
Developing Expression Proteomics Assays to Study Aging

David Edelman, MD (1999-2000)
Screening Elderly Primary Care Patients for Diabetes

Rodney J. Folz, MD, PhD (1999-2000)
Cellular Aging and Extra Cellular Antioxidants

William Scott, PhD (1999-2000)
Genetics of Successful Aging in the Midwestern Amish

Jeremy Sugarman, MD, MPH, Medical Ethics (1995-1996)
Getting Meaningful Informed Consent for Research in the Elderly:
A Structured Literature Review of Empirical Research

Michael J. Econs, MD (1995-1996)
Genetic Studies in Paget’s Disease of Bone

Connie Bales, PhD, Geriatrics (1995-1996)
The Relationship of Age with Indicators of Oxidative Status:
A Potential Opportunity for Studying Aging Process and Life-Style Factors Which Affect It

Martin Sullivan, MD (1995-1996)
The Effects of Long Term Psychologic Intervention on Functional Status of Patients with Heart Failure

Debra A. Schwinn, MD (1995-1996)
Effect of Aging on Acute Myocardial B-Adrenergic Receptor Desensitization During Cardiopulmonary Bypass

Amrit Singh, MD, Geriatrics (1994-1995)
Evaluation of Pain Behavior Detection by Long Term Care Facility Nursing Personnel

Barbara Tardiff, MD, Cardiac Anesthesia (1994-95)
Apolipoprotein E. Allele Frequency in Patients with Cognitive Deficits Following Cardiopulmonary Bypass

Debra Weiner, MD, Geriatrics
Lumbosacral Osteoarthritis in the Elderly: Examining Pain as a Mediator of Progression from Pathology to Disability

Douglas McCrory, MD
Patient Preferences for Treatment and Outcomes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Heidi White, MD, Geriatrics (1994-1995)
Weight Change in Alzheimer’s Disease: An Analysis of Morbidity, Mortality and Associated Factors

Miriam Smyth, MD (1994-1996)
Interference with the Role of Sphingomyelinase in Cell Senescence: An Anti-Aging Strategy

Wei Jiang, MD (1994-1995)
A Pilot Study for a Clinical Trial to Evaluate the Effects of Paroxetine on Transient Myocardial Ischemia
and Cardiac Events in Older Patients with Coronary Disease Accompanied by Depression

Virginia B. Kraus, MD (1994-1995)
Genetic Studies of Familial Forms of Osteoarthritis

Michael Econs, MD (1994-95)
The Genetic Aspects of Osteoporosis in Elderly African-Americans and Caucasians

Julie Chandler, PhD, PT, Physical Therapy (1993-1994)
The Personal Functional Goals Interview Protocol: A Refinement and Validation Study
in Patients with Ischemic Stroke

Lynn Hobin, DMD, Geriatric Dentistry (1993-1994)
Increased Resistance to Artificially Induced Carious Lesions in Root Surfaces

Toni Cutson, MD (1993-1994)
Development of a New Clinical Scale for Parkinson’s Disease

Tony Galanos, MD (1993-1994)
Relationship between Body Mass Index and Functional Status

Mark Stanton, MD (1993-1994)
A Randomized Controlled Trial of Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Maya McNeilly, PhD (1993-1994)
Community Based African/Aerobic Exercise Intervention to Improve Cardiovascular Fitness, Exercise Adherence,
and Psychological Well-being, and Reduce Blood Pressure and Weight in Older, African-Americans

Larry Goldstein, MD (1992-1993)
Double-Blind, Randomized Pilot Study Evaluating the Effect of D-Amphetamine on Motor Recovery

Miriam C. Morey, MA, Gerontology (1991-1992)
A Comparison of the Effects of Fitness and Acute Exercise on the Sleep of Older Women


Berger M, Schenning KJ, Brown CH 4th, et al. Best Practices for Postoperative Brain Health: Recommendations From the Fifth International Perioperative Neurotoxicity Working Group. Anesth Analg. 2018 Dec;127(6):1406-1413. [Institutional access] [PubMed]

White JP, Billin AN, Campbell ME, Russell AJ, Huffman KM, Kraus WE. The AMPK/p27Kip1 Axis Regulates Autophagy/Apoptosis Decisions in Aged Skeletal Muscle Stem Cells. Stem Cell Reports. 2018 Aug 14;11(2):425-439. [Journal access] [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Kraus WE, Pieper CF, Huffman KM, Thompson DK, Kraus VB, Morey MC, Cohen HJ, Ravussin E, Redman LM, Bain JR, Stevens RD, Newgard CB. Association of Plasma Small-Molecule Intermediate Metabolites With Age and Body Mass Index Across Six Diverse Study Populations. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2016 Nov;71(11):1507-1513. [Institutional access] [PubMed]

Whitson HE, Duan-Porter W, Schmader KE, Morey MC, Cohen HJ, Colón-Emeric CS. Physical Resilience in Older Adults: Systematic Review and Development of an Emerging Construct. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2016 Apr;71(4):489-495. [PMC free article] [PubMed]