NIA Director, Dr. Richard Hodes pays visit to Penn

Last month, President Obama announced an overall increase of two billion dollars to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, with more than $350 million of this specifically earmarked for Alzheimer’s research, the largest-ever annual increase in federal Alzheimer’s research funding. On the heels of this announcement, National Institute on Aging (NIA) Director, Dr. Richard J. Hodes, MD, paid a rare visit to the University of Pennsylvania to hear from Penn researchers and clinicians working in the fields of aging, neuroscience, and immunology.

Hodes spent day 1 with aging and neuroscience experts from the IOA and Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR). He participated in a series of round-table discussions wherein he offered advice, welcomed feedback on NIH/NIA funding processes and experiences, and learned about many of the different projects underway here at Penn.

The day began with a series of conversations with basic science researchers spanning a broad range of topics, including the genetics and basic biology of aging, featuring the work of Jerry Schellenberg, PhD, and Li-San Wang, PhD, in using the human genome to identify Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and Brad Johnson, MD, PhD, and colleagues in understanding the biological forces that influence the development of AD. Johnson’s lab in primarily interested in telomeres, the structures that cap the ends of chromosomes, and how human aging is influenced by their maintenance and dysfunction.

Additional topics included the IOA and CNDR’s focus on training the next generation of researchers at all levels. This discussion, led by Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA, highlighted the work of several graduate and MD, PhD, students, some of whom started their connection with the IOA and CNDR as early as high school or during their undergraduate years. A conversation about drug discovery rounded out the morning sessions.

The afternoon commenced with a discussion with researchers from Penn’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics and its work to improve public health economics and understand who in the population advanced directives should most be targeting, and more. Researchers from the Population Aging Research Center (PARC) and Penn’s NIA-funded P30 Center on the Demography and Economics of Aging also reviewed with Hodes their work in domestic and international factors in the demography and economics of aging including financial literacy and decision-making as well as ongoing studies involving their cohort of low-income communities in Africa to understand how aging is different in these populations.

The day concluded with presentations from Penn Nursing’s NewCourtland Center for Transitions and Health. Center representatives participating in the discussion shared their work focusing on cost and care of rehospitalization, ethical challenges in better understanding informed consent incentives, and more.

Two common themes that weaved their way through many of these discussions were the high importance the Penn placed on training the next generation of scientists and healthcare providers, and the benefit and impact of Pilot programs, a series of grants to provide seed funding for innovative research to junior faculty and young scientists, in launching research careers.

Of course, it is no surprise that the recent increase in the Alzheimer’s research budget was another popular subject. Many researchers outside of the Alzheimer’s realm questioned how, if at all, this may influence funding in their particular areas of research. In response, Dr. Hodes broadly recommended and stressed the importance of making any and all connections to Alzheimer’s and related dementias explicitly emphasized in upcoming proposals, without being misleading. With this in mind, he applauded the abundance of collaborations across centers here at Penn and strongly encouraged continuing down that path for future studies.

“I believe we presented Dr. Hodes with a close-up, in-depth look at a very broad and representative swath of all the aging and neuroscience research currently underway here at Penn that has the potential to influence our biological understanding of Alzheimer’s and related dementias now and into the future, and the clinical research and disease modifying therapies to help better treat, protect, and understand patients with AD and related dementias,” explained IOA Director, John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD. “We also reviewed Penn programs that focus on other key aspects of healthy aging and aging related demographic changes with the long term goal of improving the overall health of elders in our rapidly aging society.”


Innovative Approaches to Research on Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Designing and Implementing Large-Scale Studies

Last week, the IOA welcomed Dr. Fran Grodstein, ScD, Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, to discuss “Innovative Approaches to Research on Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Designing and Implementing Large-Scale Studies.”

Dr. Grodstein’s primary research focus is on healthy aging in women. Her team has recently been exploring the topic of research methods and how researchers can conduct much larger studies than in the past. Using simpler methods such as telephone screenings and computerized testing they suspect that participation will be much more convenient and appealing–resulting in larger sample sizes.

In the past, much of Dr. Grodstein’s research has been on how people can modify lifestyle to stay healthy. She has looked at specific ways to maintain memory, avoid major diseases, live longer, and avoid mental health issues such as depression. Some findings show that the following factors play a major role in living longer, healthier lives:

  • Diet: An increase in fruits and vegetables, with berries being particularly important for brain health
  • Exercise: Simply walking to stay active seems to be adequate
  • Moderate Alcohol Intake: One serving of any alcohol per day seems to work just as well as red wine
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Learn more about Dr. Grodstein’s research here:

For Dr. Grodstein’s full lecture, click here.



Penn FTD Center Director, Dr. Murray Grossman, receives Legal Clinic for the Disabled’s Special Recognition Award

MurrayGrossmanMurray Grossman, MD, EdD, professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD) Center, received the Legal Clinic for the Disabled’s (LCD) highest honor, the Special Recognition Award, for his longtime commitment to the disability community.

This award honors the impact of Dr. Grossman’s research and care of those affected by FTD and other life-altering related disorders that can cause motor dysfunction as well as affect behavior and language. Dr. Grossman also serves as the president of the Katie Sampson Foundation, a local group that works closely with the LCD and provides funding for research and rehabilitation treatments and programs to give patients with spinal cord injuries a sense of independence and increased quality of life.

As for his work here at Penn, the FTD Center is a close collaborator of the Institute on Aging, focusing on Frontotemporal degeneration, the second most common cause of dementia in people under 65, and related dementias. FTD “deprives patients of their cognitive abilities, personality and eventually their independence.”

For more information on Dr. Grossman and his work in FTD research and care, visit:

Full Penn Medicine News Release.


Related Event:

Penn FTD Center Annual Caregiver Conference
May 20, 2016 | Time TBD
Smilow Center for Translational Research – Rubenstein Auditorium

This daylong event is open to family, caregivers, health professions, scientists, students, and all others interested in learning more about FTD. The conference will include lectures by Dr. Grossman and a team of experts in the field.

Cellular Senescence and Fundamental Aging Processes

“If you are 85 [years old] compared to 30, your risk of having a heart attack is a thousand times greater…” – James L. Kirkland, MD, PhD

During his recent visit here at the University of Pennsylvania, James L. Kirkland, MD, PhD, Director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging and our first IOA Visiting Scholar of the new year, explained that the biggest risk factor for major aging-related conditions is simply the age of the individual itself.

As a clinical geriatrician, Dr. Kirkland treats many older adults with these chronic aging-related diseases such as dementia, cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, and osteoarthritis, all of which are driving forces behind most health costs and mortality.

On the research side of things, Dr. Kirkland focuses on cellular senescence and targeting the fundamental aging processes that are at the root of these diseases. More specifically, he is looking at whether targeting these fundamental processes can delay, prevent, alleviate, or treat aging-related chronic diseases as a group, rather than targeting one at a time. The underlying, and most important, goal here would be to increase healthspan, not just lifespan.

Learn more about Dr. Kirkland’s research here and in the video interview below.


Planning Your Encore Career: Discovering new passions and pursuing new hobbies

In October of this year, the Institute on Aging (IOA), in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania’s Human Resources Department, welcomed WHYY’s Willo Carey to discuss “Purposely Planning Your Encore Career.” Inspired by this presentation, the IOA has started working on a new video series project to document Penn faculty and staff and their thoughts and plans for “encore careers”.

 Rose Halligan currently works in an office as an Administrative Assistant for the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania but one day hopes to work from the comfort of her own home studio. She, like many others here at Penn, has started to think not only about her retirement, but also about her encore career. In addition to dedicating more time to her hobby of quilt making, Rose would love to pursue another recently discovered passion—voiceover and acting.

The idea arose from a student project in which she was asked to participate. At first, Rose was very hesitant and quickly shot down the idea, not wanting to step in front of the camera. However, when the student suggested the voiceover, she figured she would give it a shot. Much to her surprise, she enjoyed the experience so much that she instantly went back to her computer and began researching classes.

Since then, Rose has completed several voiceover classes, stepped out of her comfort zone and tried out acting, and has also enrolled in new courses for audiobook reading.

Learn more about Rose Halligan’s plans and inspiration for her encore career here:

Planning your encore career?

If you are a Penn employee and you’ve started thinking about your encore career, we’d love to hear from you! For more details, email:

Penn Neurodegenerative Disease Researchers sit on CurePSP Research Roundtable and Panel

Penn Medicine’s John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, director, Institute on Aging, and Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA, director, Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, were among the neurodegenerative disease researchers and physicians selected to participate in a recent Roundtable discussion and Q&A Panel at an event hosted by the CurePSP Foundation.

The event, which was held at the Union Club in New York City, reached an audience of those who have been affected by PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) and other related neurodegenerative diseases, such as family members and caregivers, in addition to donors and other investigators. The focus of the discussion mainly revolved around the relatively popular notion that PSP serves as a preferred target for the potential discovery of the causes behind all neurodegeneration, including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease.

The reason that PSP seems to be a promising way to understand these other diseases is because with this specific disorder, investigators are able to target a single misfolded protein within the brain. “All of these neurodegenerative disease that you’ve heard about are disorders of protein misfolding… but PSP is almost the only disease where there is enough clinical information to make a fairly specific predictive diagnosis of what the underlying pathology is… and that is so important for clinical trials of drugs if you are targeting tau,” explained Dr. Trojanowski during the Q&A session.

View the full roundtable and panel, including discussion of current progress, collaborations, and future plans, here:



0:00 – 2:40 – Intro and Opening Remarks: David Kemp, President of CurePSP

2:40 – Introduction to Moderator: Jonathan Weiner, Columbia Journalism School

7:30 – Karen Duff, PhD, Columbia University

13:17 – John Trojanowski, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania

19:15 – Alison Goate, PhD, Mount Sinai

24:51 – Scott Small, MD, Columbia University

29:00 – Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA

33:19 – Sally Temple, PhD, Neural Stem Cell Institute

Q&A Panel

38:14Can you explain to us what is it in PSP that makes it promising as a way in to understanding all of the other diseases?

  • Answered by John Q. Trojanowski

43:24 Is there collaboration across the country and between the scientists?

  • Answered by Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, MBA, Alison Goate, PhD and Scott Small, MD

49:00 – Has the movement of academic medical centers toward patents and spin off companies hindered or helped collaboration and research in this area?

  • Answered by John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, Karen Duff, PhD, and Alison Goate, PhD

Penn Medicine’s Mary Ersek, PhD, RN shares her experience in “Dying in America” Documentary

“Dying in America: Nurses Leading the Conversation”

“Dying in America” is the second documentary directed and produced by Carolyn Jones. Her debut documentary, The American Nurse, was inspired by her own experience as a breast cancer patient—an experience that opened her eyes to the realization that the people who made the biggest impact during her treatment were actually the nurses. With this in mind, Jones decided to document the experience of the American nurse, and in doing so, realized that many of these individuals have had experiences around caring for people who are dying, prompting her next project.

Mary Ersek, PhD, RN, professor of palliative care at the University of Pennsylvania, became involved with this project following a premiere of The American Nurse here at Penn in which Carolyn Jones attended. “I had actually sent Carolyn a long list of names of my colleagues who she should talk with… and she got back to me and said, ‘Thanks so much for the recommendations, but we’d actually like to interview you,’” she explained.

Dr. Ersek explained that the discussion of end-of-life care has grown increasingly important, especially in terms of the recognition that we need to provide compassionate care to people toward the end of life.

Learn more about the “Dying in America” documentary in Part 1 of our interview with Dr. Ersek:

Learn more about Dr. Ersek’s work in palliative and end-of-life care in Part 2:


View the official “Dying in America” interviews, including Dr. Ersek’s, here: Dying in America Interviews