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Research Education Component (REC)

The Research Education Component (REC) recognizes that training in aging research faces several unique challenges, including difficulties recruiting geriatricians into research careers and a lack of training in the principles of aging research by other medical disciplines.

The objective of the Research Education Component will be to develop the next generation of researchers who will become leaders in integrating basic science and clinical insights into innovative interventions promoting reserve and resilience in late life.

AIMS of the Research Education Component
  1. Coordinate delivery of Aging research curriculum to early investigators across the University
  2. Provide a structure for individualized Aging and Research mentorship at Duke
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of Aging research across the Duke OAIC
Duke Pepper Announces 2021 Intervention Development Workshop For Early Investigators
The Duke Pepper Center Research Education Component invites early investigators to register for a free, 7-session series focused on intervention development for older adults. The objective of this popular workshop is to support researchers in developing and testing complex interventions targeting older populations. Expert faculty facilitators will review key points using case study examples, highlight available resources, and provide self-study materials. Ample time for discussion, small group work, and problem-solving relevant to scholar research areas will be provided.

[View Schedule and Topics]

Cathleen Colón-Emeric, MD, MHS
Professor of Medicine
Chief, Division of Geriatrics
Associate Director-Clinical at the Durham VA Geriatrics Research Education and Clinical Center (GRECC), Adjunct Faculty at the Duke School of Nursing and Duke Clinical Research Institute

Current research focuses on the epidemiology, prediction, and prevention of osteoporotic fractures in elderly persons, and in improving the quality of care delivered to residents in skilled nursing facilities. Ongoing projects include a large, administrative database study of osteoporosis screening in men, a randomized trial of different staff education strategies to improve fall prevention in nursing homes, and several clinical demonstration projects. In 2017, Dr Colón-Emeric received the Clinical Sciences Research Mentoring Award from the Department of Medicine, and in 2018 she was appointed Associate Dean for Research Mentoring for the School of Medicine.

Kimberly Johnson, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
Associate Director of the CTSA KL-2 program

Dr Johnson leads the Duke Center for REsearch to AdvanCe Healthcare Equity (REACH), where researchers study the effect of a clinician communication coaching intervention—teaching empathic skills and eliciting participatory behaviors—on the quality of communication in cardiology encounters with African American patients; test the use of a mobile app for African American patients receiving palliative care in the ICU and their families to self-report needs, obtain information about patient/family needs, and access decisional support; and develop and pilot test an implicit bias training intervention for providers.

Brian Andonian, MD (Division of Rheumatology and Immunology/Dept. of Medicine)
Accelerated metabolic aging in rheumatoid arthritis immune cells and skeletal muscle: A pilot study

    1. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a model disease for studying premature aging. Persons with RA suffer from
      early aging-associated metabolic comorbidities, and are at risk for low resilience, a decreased ability to resist
      functional decline. Mitochondrial function in RA and aging is a marker of cellular reserve, and is thus important for preserving resilience. RA and aged immune cells have abnormal mitochondrial function, which coincide with immune dysregulation. Skeletal muscle in both RA and aging is also marked by altered mitochondria. The pilot study will investigate whether dysfunction of mitochondria, the cellular metabolic “engine,” connects RA peripheral helper T-cells, macrophages and skeletal muscle abnormalities. Objectives are twofold:
      1) to determine whether RA T cell, macrophage and skeletal muscle mitochondrial function abnormalities are associated, and
      2) to determine associations of exercise training on RA immune cell and skeletal muscle mitochondria.

Ming-Feng Hsueh, PhD (Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery)
Harness human cartilage repair capability to prevent and reverse osteoarthritis

    1. Humans have a natural cartilage repair response which is high in the ankle, intermediate in the knee and low in hip cartilages. This repair response in humans is highly associated with the microRNAs used by salamanders and other limb regenerating animals to regenerate whole limbs. This project will evaluate the ability of microRNAs as a therapy to improve cartilage resilience to injury in vitro, and build the foundation for further evaluation in animals for microRNAs’ ability to prevent and reverse the most prevalent of age-related diseases, osteoarthritis, for which we currently have no disease-modifying treatments.

Daniel C. Parker, MD (Division of Geriatrics/Dept. of Medicine)
Identification of biomarkers of cognitive resilience in the Duke Performance Across the LifeSpan (PALS) Study

    1. Cognitive resilience is defined as preserved cognitive function in the setting of “stressors” that adversely
      affect cognitive function; it may explain – in part – the heterogeneity of cognitive function in older adults who
      otherwise appear clinically similar, especially with respect to risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related
      dementias (ADRD). Blood-based biomarkers of cognitive resilience would be useful to identify protective factors and test resilience-building interventions that preserve cognitive function in the setting of these stressors; currently, no such biomarkers exist. Building on previous work, I propose to develop a measure of cognitive resilience in a subset of community-dwelling older adults from the Duke Performance Across the LifeSpan (PALS; N=297) study with repeat cognitive testing over 3 years. Using this measure, I will identify biomarkers reflecting dysregulation in “Hallmarks of Aging” pathways that are predictive of cognitive resilience.

Nazema Siddiqui, MD (Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology)
Effects of aging and the urinary microbiome on recurrent urinary tract infections

    1. Specific interests include: 1) pathophysiology of overactive bladder with particular emphasis on epigenetic mechanisms; and 2) studying the urinary microbiome with aging and in women with recurrent urinary tract infection. Additional interests include clinical outcomes research after surgery for prolapse and other pelvic floor disorders.

Corey Simon, DPT, PhD (Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery)
Physical Resilience to Pain with Activity Influences among Seniors (PRAISE) – Feasibility Study

    1. Research focuses on development of tailored multi-factorial interventions that prevent disability among older adults with low back pain. Low back pain poses a major risk to senior health, as it is the global leader in years lived with disability and strongly associated with mobility disability. However, it is not clear why some older adults with low back pain succumb to mobility disability while others do not. This REC study will determine the feasibility of assessing three factors that may explain mobility disability among older adults with low back pain: pain with activity, fear of movement, and dynamic inflammatory response to movement.

Tony Sung, MD (Division of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapy/Dept. of Medicine)
High intensity interval training to improve pre- and peri-transplant function and outcomes

    1. Research focuses on strategies to reduce complications of HCT and ranges from preclinical studies using murine models of HCT to Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials. Areas of interest include the role of the microbiota (the trillions of bacteria living in and on our bodies), nutrition, and exercise in modulating HCT outcomes such as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and infections.


Since its inception, the Duke Pepper Center has produced an impressive portfolio of relevant research and innovations in faculty development. One of its many accomplishments is support and mentoring of numerous promising investigators whose careers focus on relevant aging related research at Duke. In 2009, in recognition of the contributions of these young investigators, career development and pilot project awardees, the Duke Pepper Center established a Duke Pepper Scholars Program.

Previous awardees:

Jason Allen, PhD, Cardiology

Kelli Allen, PhD, General Internal Medicine

Raquel R. Bartz, MD, Anesthesiology

Dan Belsky, PhD, Geriatrics

Beverly Brummett, MD, Medical Psychology

James T. Cavanaugh PT, PhD, Geriatrics

Jessica Chia, MD, Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine

Jennifer Dungan, RN, PhD, School of Nursing

William Michael Foster, PhD, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

Farshid Guilak, PhD, Orthopedic Surgery and Cell Biology

Katherine Hall, PhD, Geriatrics

Rasheeda Hall, MD, Nephrology

Susan Nichole Hastings, MD, Geriatrics

Matthew Hirschey, PhD, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Kim Huffman, MD, Rheumatology and Immunology

Kimberly Johnson, MD, Geriatrics

Lee Jones, PhD, Radiation Oncology

Timothy Koves, PhD, Geriatrics

Richard Lee, MD, Endocrinology and Metabolism

Helen Lum, MD, Geriatrics

David Madden, PhD, Psychiatry and Behaviorial Sciences

Micah McClain, MD, Infectious Diseases

Mehri McKellar, MD, Infectious Diseases

Deborah M. Muoio, PhD, Endocrinology & Metabolomics

Kent Nilsson, MD, Cardiology

Amy Pastva, PhD, Community and Family Medicine

Juliessa Pavon, MD, Geriatrics

Matthew Peterson, PhD, Geriatrics

Thomas Povsic, MD, Cardiology

Jama L. Purser, PT, PhD, Geriatrics

Arati Rao, MD, Medicine

Gregory Sempowski, PhD, Duke Human Vaccine Institute

Svati H. Shah, MD, MHS, Epidemiology, Medical Genomics

Heather E. Whitson, MD, Geriatrics


Simon CB, Lentz TA, Orr L, Bishop MD, Fillingim RB, Riley JL 3rd, George SZ. Static and Dynamic Pain Sensitivity in Adults with Persistent Low Back Pain: Comparison to Healthy Controls and Associations with Movement-Evoked Pain Versus Traditional Clinical Pain Measures. Clin J Pain. 2021 May 12. Epub ahead of print. PMID:33999558 Institutional access

Hsueh MF, Zhang X, Wellman SS, Bolognesi MP, Kraus VB. Synergistic Roles of Macrophages and Neutrophils in Osteoarthritis Progression. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2021 Jan;73(1):89-99. PMCID:7876152 Available 02/11/2022

Bickhaus JA, Vaughan M, Truong T, Li YJ, Siddiqui NY. A comparison of antibiotic prophylaxis regimens to decrease the risk of post-procedure urinary tract infection after onabotulinum toxin A injection. Int Urogynecol J. 2020 Sep;31(9):1907-1912. PMCID:7498079

Parker DC, Bartlett BN, Cohen HJ, Fillenbaum G, Huebner JL, Kraus VB, Pieper C, Belsky DW. Association of Blood Chemistry Quantifications of Biological Aging With Disability and Mortality in Older Adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2020 Sep 16;75(9):1671-1679. Minority Research Publication PMCID:7494046

Sung AD, Jauhari S, Siamakpour-Reihani S, Rao AV, Staats J, Chan C, Meyer E, Gadi VK, Nixon AB, Lyu J, Xie J, Bohannon L, Li Z, Hourigan CS, Dillon LW, Wong HY, Shelby R, Diehl L, de Castro C, LeBlanc T, Brander D, Erba H, Galal A, Stefanovic A, Chao N, Rizzieri DA. Microtransplantation in older patients with AML: A pilot study of safety, efficacy and immunologic effects. Am J Hematol. 2020 Jun;95(6):662-671. PMCID:7433709

Hall RK, Cary MP Jr, Washington TR, Colón-Emeric CS. Quality of life in older adults receiving hemodialysis: a qualitative study. Qual Life Res. 2020 Mar;29(3):655-663. PMCID:7028790

Hall RK, Zhou H, Reynolds K, Harrison TN, Bowling CB. A Novel Approach to Developing a Discordance Index for Older Adults With Chronic Kidney Disease. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2020 Feb 14;75(3):522-528. PMID:31644788 Open access

Pavon JM, Sloane RJ, Pieper CF, Colón-Emeric CS, Cohen HJ, Gallagher D, Hall KS, Morey MC, McCarty M, Hastings SN. Accelerometer-Measured Hospital Physical Activity and Hospital-Acquired Disability in Older Adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2020 Feb;68(2):261-265. PMCID:7002200 Institutional access

Johnson KS, Payne R, Kuchibhatla MN. What are Hospice Providers in the Carolinas Doing to Reach African Americans in Their Service Area? J Palliat Med. 2016 Feb;19(2):183-189. Minority Research Publication PMCID:4753631