Faculty

Faculty of Interdisciplinary Experts
The USC Leonard Davis School’s faculty represents the major professional and disciplinary fields related to gerontology. They are distinguished, award-winning scholars and professionals who are highly regarded for their teaching abilities as well as their professional and research credentials. Students of the USC program learn directly from the leaders in gerontology and aging services who are driving the research that is shaping our understanding of aging.

Jennifer-Ailshire

Jennifer Ailshire, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Gerontology

Jennifer Ailshire’s research addresses questions that lie at the intersections of social stratification, urban sociology, and the sociology of health and aging. In particular, her research focuses on the importance of the neighborhood environment and social relationships in determining health over the life course. A consistent theme throughout her work is an interest in gender, socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic inequality in health.

Current projects include research on the links between air pollution and health in older adults, neighborhood determinants of racial and ethnic health disparities, and social factors associated with poor sleep.

MG_8779skalicky-e1502743489328-272x297Bérénice Benayoun, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Gerontology

Bérénice Benayoun, PhD, researches epigenome and transcriptome remodeling with aging in vertebrates and the roles that these changes can play in the aging process. Her identification of a new key chromatin signature of cell identity and transcriptional consistency, which can be partially remodeled during aging, has raised important questions about the stability of cellular identity throughout life. Her work also provided the first genome draft for the naturally short-lived African turquoise killifish, a new vertebrate model for aging research.

Pinchas-Cohen

Pinchas Cohen, M.D.

Dean, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
Professor of Gerontology, Medicine and Biological Science
Executive Director, Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center
William and Sylvia Kugel Dean’s Chair in Gerontology

Pinchas Cohen, MD, trained in Stanford and held his first faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania from 1992 to 1999. Until 2012, he was a professor and Vice Chair for Research at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, as well as the Co-Director of the UCSD/UCLA Diabetes Research Center.

He received numerous awards for his research, including a National Institute of Aging “EUREKA”-Award, the NIH-Director-Transformative RO1-Grant, and the Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging.

He holds several patents for novel peptides and is the Cofounder of CohBar, a biotechnology company developing mitochondrial peptides for diseases of aging. Cohen has published over 300 papers in top scientific journals focusing on aging, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, growth hormone/IGF-biology and the emerging science of mitochondrial-derived peptides, which he pioneered.

Cohen is president of the Growth Hormone Society and served on the Endocrine Society Steering Committee. He sits on multiple NIH study sections and on several editorial boards as well as on the American Federation of Aging Research Board.

Cohen is leading several new initiatives at the USC Leonard Davis School, including the development of a center for digital aging, and a major focus on the creation of tools for “personalized aging”, an approach he has been spearheading for the purpose of garnering the latest technologies such as genomics towards individualizing healthy aging strategies, that has been featured in the Milken Global Conference and in the Bloomberg Longevity Economy Conference.

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Eileen Crimmins, Ph.D.

AARP Professor of Gerontology. Director of Multidisciplinary Research Training in Gerontology Ph.D. Program

Eileen Crimmins is the AARP Professor of Gerontology in the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a University Professor at USC. She is currently the director of the USC/UCLA Center on Biodemography and Population Health, one of the Demography of Aging Centers supported by the U.S. National Institute on Aging. She is also the Director of the Multidisciplinary Training in Gerontology Program and the NIA-sponsored Network on Biological Risk. Crimmins is a co-investigator of the Health and Retirement Study in the U.S. Much of Crimmins’ research has focused on changes over time in health and mortality. Crimmins has been instrumental in organizing and promoting the recent integration of the measurement of biological indicators in large population surveys. She recently served as co-chair of a Committee for the National Academy of Sciences to address why life expectancy in the U.S. is falling so far behind that of other countries. She has recently co-edited several books with a focus on international aging, mortality and health expectancy: Determining Health Expectancies; Longer Life and Healthy Aging; Human Longevity, Individual Life Duration, and the Growth of the Oldest-old Population; International Handbook of Adult Mortality; Explaining Diverging Levels of Longevity in High-Income Countries; and International Differences in Mortality at Older Ages: Dimensions and Sources. She has received the Kleemeier Award for Research from the Gerontological Society of America.

Sean-Currans

Sean Curran, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in Gerontology, Molecular and Computational Biology, Assistant Dean of Research

Sean Curran, PhD, focuses on understanding the regulatory control mechanisms that govern animal health across the entire lifespan. Decades of studies in the biology of aging have looked at extending lifespan as a measure of success.  Although this approach has uncovered several potent regulators of animal lifespan, there are also examples of long-lived animals that exist in a decrepit state.  Obviously, this was not the intent of biogerontologists as our actual goal is to increase healthspan, or the time of life spent in a healthy state. With this in mind, my research group has invested in defining molecular, genetic, and environmental factors that impact multiple parameters of health (resistance to environmental and dietary stress, mobility, metabolism, reproductive-fitness, and mitochondrial function) throughout life.  Our goal then is not simply to push the limits of life expectancy, but rather to maximize the quality of health over the largest possible period of the lifespan.

Our long-term goal is to generate blueprints that allow an individual to maximize health over the course of their lifespan. Informed by genetics, we develop the capacity to predict which diets are ideal for a healthy life and which should be avoided.  Moreover, we investigate the mechanistic basis of the molecules, genes, and pathways we have discovered can influence healthspan. The product of this investment is the ability to use diet as a means to circumvent genetic predisposition and prevent or reduce the severity of age-related disease.  Our research has benefited from the ability to quickly test several diet-gene pairs in C. elegans, which has allowed us to transition to directed studies in murine models. Although we will continue to exploit the utility of genetics and biochemistry of the worm, we expect that our mouse and cultured human cell approaches will synergize and provide relevant information for human aging.

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Kelvin J. A. Davies, Ph.D., D.Sc., FRSC, FRCP

Professor of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, Vice Dean, Dean of Faculty and Dean of Research, James E. Birren Chair in Gerontology, Director, Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, Director, USC-Buck Biology of Aging PhD Program

Kelvin J. A. Davies, PhD, DSc, FRSC, FRCP is the James E. Birren Chair of Gerontology. Davies was born and raised in London, England and is a dual citizen of Great Britain and the U.S.A. Educated at London University, Liverpool & Lancaster Universities, the University of Wisconsin, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard, he was previously a faculty member at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School. Before moving to USC’s Andrus Gerontology Center in 1996, Davies was Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the Albany Medical College in New York, where he was also John A. Muntz University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Molecular Medicine.

Deeply involved in research into oxidative stress and free radicals, Davies is the (founding) Editor-in-Chief of the premier scientific journal in the field, Free Radical Biology & Medicine. Davies is a Fellow of the Oxygen Society; a Fellow of the Society for Free Radical Biology & Medicine; a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America; a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine; a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh; a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and a Fellow of Academia Europaea (the Academy of Europe). He is the winner of several prizes and awards, including the Harwood S. Belding award of the American Physiological Society, the Sir Arthur Harden Trophy, the Bari Prize in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, the Gold Medal of the European Society for Free Radical Research, the Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award of the Society for Redox Biology & Medicine, Mellon Mentoring Awards, the Chester M. Southern Outstanding Career Achievement Award, the Trevor Slater Gold Medal and Lectureship of the International Society for Free Radical Research, the Hiram J. Friedsam Mentorship Achievement Award of AGHE and GSA, and the Denham Harman Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award of the American Aging Association. Davies has been awarded some 15 honorary doctoral degrees and professorships from European, American, and Asian Universities. He is past President of the Society for Free Radical Biology & Medicine and the International Society for Free Radical Research. In 1996, he was named the National Parkinson Foundation Scholar. In 2012 Davies was knighted as a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite de France (Knight, National Order of Merit of France) by the President of France.

During aging, and in several age-related disease processes, vital cellular proteins, lipids, and DNA and RNA are damaged by free radicals produced by metabolism, chronic inflammation, radiation, smoke, pollution, and by many foods and drugs. These oxidized, non-functional, or dysfunctional cellular constituents must be removed or repaired before they cause further cell damage.

Davies’ research centers on the role of free radicals and oxidative stress in biology for which he coined the term, “The Oxygen Paradox.” In particular he is interested in genes that repair oxidatively damaged proteins, lipids, RNA, and DNA, and his laboratory has made major contributions to our understanding of this subject over the past thirty years. Davies discovered key roles free radicals play in exercise, and in mitochondrial redox-cycling-dependent cardiotoxicity of the chemotherapy drug Adriamycin. He uncovered stress-protection by Proteasome and the Lon protease, discovered several stress-related genes, including RCAN1 which contributes to Alzheimer disease, Down syndrome, and Huntington disease. Davies demonstrated that impaired induction of the Proteasome and of the mitochondrial Lon protease genes contributes to senescence and severely diminished stress-resistance in aging. He developed the concept of Adaptive Homeostasis and has demonstrated the significance of its decline in both aging and chronic diseases.

At the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Davies is focusing his research on the regulation of oxidative stress repair genes during aging. His laboratory is involved in biochemical, molecular biology, and genetic studies of both normal aging processes, and aging pathologies such as cardiovascular, Alzheimer and Huntington diseases and sarcopenia.

Suzanne-Enguidanos

Susan Enguidanos, Ph.D., MPH

Assistant Professor of Gerontology, Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion

Susan Enguídanos, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. Enguídanos has a multidisciplinary background evident in her educational and professional history. She obtained her BA in psychology at UCLA, master’s degree in public health at California State University, Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in social work at USC.

Enguídanos conducts research in the field of palliative care, including a home-based model that is currently being implemented in many Kaiser Permanente facilities nationally. She has conducted extensive research in investigating ethnic variation in access to and use of hospice care, work that led to the development and implementation of theoretically-driven interventions aimed at improving access to hospice care for these populations. Enguídanos is currently working on understanding care setting transitions for seriously ill patients and developing mechanisms for improving continuity of palliative care for individuals with complicated illness.

She is also Principal Investigator of a study testing a social work intervention to improve care setting transitions among older adults as they move from hospital to home. She serves as the evaluator on several other projects, including a mental health and substance abuse program for older adults and a program aimed at improving the health of seniors with multiple chronic diseases. She has published the findings from her research in several peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of American Geriatric SocietyJournal of Palliative MedicineJournal of Pain & Symptom Management, Journal of Social Work in End of Life & Palliative CareSocial Work in Health Care, and Drugs In Society.

Enguídanos is the editor of Evidenced-Based Interventions for Community-Dwelling Older Adults, a book that examines research focused on improving the health of seniors living in the community. She is associate editor of Home Health Services Quarterly and an active member of the Gerontological Society of America and the American Association of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and has presented results of her work at many of these and other professional meetings and conferences. Further, her research on an end-of-life care model received a national Kaiser Permanente Award for quality and has been replicated in Kaiser facilities throughout the nation. The impact of Enguídanos’ research has been far-reaching, resulting in the development of programs that are improving the delivery of healthcare nationally for the elderly, indeed, for all patients of any age who require end-life care.

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Caleb Finch Ph.D.

ARCO/Keischnick Professor of the Nerobiology of Aging University Professor

Caleb Finch’s major research interest is the study of basic mechanisms in human aging with a focus on inflammation. He has received most of the major awards in biomedical gerontology, including the Robert W. Kleemeier Award of the Gerontological Society of America in 1985, the Sandoz Premier Prize by the International Geriatric Association in 1995, and the Irving Wright Award of AFAR and the Research Award of AGE in 1999. He was the founder of the NIA-funded Alzheimer Disease Research Center in 1984 and currently serves as co-Director. Finch became a University Distinguished Professor in 1989, an honor held by sixteen other professors at USC who contribute to multiple fields. He is a member of five editorial boards and has written four books and 475 articles. A new research area is the effect of air pollution on brain development and aging, which he is developing through a USC-wide network

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Jessica Ho, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Gerontology

Jessica Ho is a demographer and sociologist who studies the social determinants of health and mortality. Her research seeks to explain differences in life expectancy and health over the life course across populations. Her three major areas of research examine why American life expectancy lags behind other high-income countries, socioeconomic and racial/ethnic health inequalities, and health and aging in developing countries.

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Andrei Irimia, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Gerontology

Andrei Irimia, PhD, is a computational neuroscientist, neurogerontologist, biomedical engineering researcher and biophysicist whose interests cover, in a broad sense, the topics of neural injury, degeneration, plasticity and repair. His research utilizes computational biology approaches and multimodal imaging to study how brain connectivity alterations caused by insults to the brain contribute to connectome reorganization and to cognitive degradation & recovery. A key component of this research is the relationship between brain injury, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, dementia and how these conditions interact with one another. Upon completion of a bachelor’s degree in computer science & mathematics, he was awarded an MS degree in computer science (medical image processing), an MS and a PhD in biophysics (pathophysiology), all from Vanderbilt University. Following postdoctoral studies at UCSD and UCLA, he joined the Keck School of Medicine of USC as a junior faculty member, from where he was recruited by the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, where he is now Assistant Professor of Gerontology and Neuroscience. He has training and expertise in both biomedical as well as electrical engineering systems, and his experience with the segmentation, morphometry and quantitative analysis of neuroimaging data has allowed him and his colleagues to pioneer award-winning approaches for the visualization of the human connectome. These strategies have facilitated contributions to current knowledge on brain networks, neural injury, vascular neuropathology and on neurodegeneration in atypical aging. Irimia has published extensively on MRI physics, atomic structure theory, bioengineering, neurophysiology, bioelectromagnetism, inverse localization of human cortical activity, nonlinear dynamics of neural networks, computational neurobiology & neuroinformatics, data science, machine intelligence, neuroenteric physiology, multivariate statistical inference, as well as on the applications of differential geometry and elliptic/harmonic theory to neuroscience. His research is being funded by the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) through the R01 mechanism. He has co-authored 90+ peer-reviewed publications and 200+ research abstracts, he has delivered 40+ invited lectures and received 80+ academic honors and awards, both national and international. His research has been covered by Discover Magazine, Scientific American, Nature, Nature Methods, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other venues. More recently, his findings on neural injury and brain networks have been described in several neuroscience textbooks. Irimia has developed and taught a popular graduate course on neuroimaging data analysis using magnetic resonance imaging at USC, where he is a member of both the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) and the Multidisciplinary Training Program in Gerontology. He is also a member of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute for Electronic and Electric Engineers (IEEE), the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society (IEEE EMBS) and the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society (IEEE CIS).

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Mireille Jacobson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Gerontology

Mireille Jacobson, PhD, is an applied micro-economist with a diverse portfolio of research united by an interest in understanding how health care policies affect well-being. Much of her work focuses on the supply-side of health care markets, analyzing (i) the effects of direct supply changes (e.g., hospital closures) on access to care and (ii) the impact of reimbursement policy on treatment and outcomes, specifically in the oncology market. Other work focuses on the demand side, assessing the risk-protective value of health insurance for consumers. Her current projects include analyses of (i) tradeoffs in covering near poor households with public insurance versus subsidies for the purchase of private health insurance, (ii) the impact of a transitional care pain management model on readmissions and health outcomes for opioid tolerant patients, and (iii) the anticipatory effects of gaining Medicare on the mental health of seniors. In addition to being an Associate Professor in the Davis School of Gerontology, she is the co-director of the program on aging at USC’s Schaeffer Center for Health Economics and Policy and a research associate in the Health Care Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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Changhan David Lee, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Gerontology

The Lee lab is largely interested in metabolic regulation of aging and age-related diseases, with special emphasis on mitochondrial biology. Dietary restriction and the modulation of nutrient-sensing pathways are robust and reproducible interventions that extend life/healthspan in model organisms. The mitochondrion, being the single most important metabolic organelle, is strongly implicated in aging and age-related diseases. However, the role of mitochondria in regulating life/healthspan has been largely unclear. Mitochondrial communication with the cell is dominantly viewed as a unidirectional process, in which mitochondria are at the receiving end as ‘end-function’ organelles. The existence of retrograde signaling, where the mitochondria respond back to the cell, is known, but the currently described signaling molecules are limited to secondary or transient metabolites (e.g. ca2+, ROS) or mitochondria-resident proteins encoded in the nuclear genome (e.g. cytochrome C). This has been recently challenged by the discovery of novel genes encoded in the mitochondrial genome that produce small bioactive peptides. These peptides can act both non-cell autonomously and cell-autonomously, and represent inherent signals originating from mitochondria. The lab focuses on how mitochondria communicate back to the cell and organism to regulate aging and age-related diseases using these innate signals encoded within its genome, especially those in the 12S rRNA locus. We hypothesize that these novel short open reading frames (ORFs) are potential candidate mitochondrial longevity genes and therapeutic/diagnostic targets.

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Valter Longo, Ph.D.

Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology, Professor of Biological Sciences

Valter Longo, PhD, is the Edna Jones Professor in Gerontology and Professor in Biological Science. He is also the Director of the USC Longevity Institute. He is interested in understanding the fundamental mechanisms of aging in yeast, mice and humans by using genetics and biochemistry techniques. He is also interested in identifying the molecular pathways conserved from simple organisms to humans that can be modulated to protect against multiple stresses and treat or prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and other diseases of aging. The focus is on the signal transduction pathways that regulate resistance to oxidative damage in yeast and mice.

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Mara Mather, Ph.D.

Professor of Gerontology and Psychology, Assistant Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs

At the core of our sense of self and personal history are emotional memories. Although emotional or stressful experiences tend to be memorable, emotional arousal can also impair various aspects of memory. In recent years, research into arousal and memory has focused on the key role of the amygdala in enhancing perception and memory of emotionally arousing stimuli. But enhanced memory for arousing information is only part of the story—there is also abundant evidence that arousal enhances some aspects of memory while impairing other aspects. In our lab, we are testing the theory that arousal enhances high-priority neural representations but suppresses low-priority neural representations of stimuli. We also are examining how age-related changes in inhibitory processes affect the influence of arousal.

In a related line of work, we are researching how stress influences decisions. Our work reveals that stress changes how risk-seeking people are in their decisions and how much they are influenced by positive versus negative outcomes. Our findings also reveal both gender and age differences in how stress influences decision processes. We are also investigating how connectivity among different brain regions involved in emotion and cognition change with age, using both structural and functional neuroimaging.

Christian-Pike

Christian Pike, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in Gerontology

Research in my lab is broadly focused on Alzheimer’s disease (AD), with the general goals of elucidating factors that regulate AD pathogenesis and pursuing translational approaches that will be useful in the prevention and/or treatment of the disease. Our approach to investigating research questions involves the use of complementary cellular, biochemical and molecular techniques to analyze relationships in human tissues, wild-type and transgenic rodent models, and cultured cells.

A primary area of focus in my laboratory is the relationship between age-related loss of steroid hormones and the development of AD. For example, our research with postmortem human brain has helped to identify testosterone loss in aging men as a risk factor for AD. In rodent models, we observe that depletion of androgens accelerates development of AD-like neuropathology and increases neuronal vulnerability to toxic insult. Cell culture studies continue to identify the relevant underlying mechanisms for these androgen effects, including investigation of classic genomic actions (e.g., regulation of genes such as neprilysin) as well as activation of rapid cell signaling pathways (e.g., MAPK/ERK, CREB, PKC). In ongoing translational studies, we are building upon our basic science advances to develop specific therapeutic interventions that selectively activate protective androgen pathways (e.g., synthetic testosterone mimetics). Using this general research strategy, we are pursuing conceptually parallel basic science and translational projects to evaluate the interactions between estrogen and progesterone actions in the regulation of neurodegenerative cascades associated with AD.

A new area of research in the lab seeks to understand the relationships between obesity, type 2 diabetes, and AD. Recent epidemiological findings have identified obesity in middle age, and its downstream consequences metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, as significant risk factors for the development of AD in old age. Our efforts are focused at understanding the mechanistic links between these conditions, including the interactive roles of adiposity, neuroinflammation, and age-related changes in testosterone and estrogen.

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Jon Pynoos, Ph.D.

UPS Foundation Professor of Gerontology, Policy and Planning

Jon Pynoos, PhD, is the UPS Foundation Professor of Gerontology, Policy and Planning at the Andrus Gerontology Center of the University of Southern California. He is also Director of the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification, and Co-Director of the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence which is funded primarily by the Archstone Foundation.

Pynoos has spent his career researching, writing, and advising the government and non-profit sectors concerning how to improve housing and long term care for the elderly. He has conducted a large number of applied research projects based on surveys and case studies of housing, aging in place and long-term care. He teaches courses on Social Policy and Aging.

He has written and edited six books on housing and the elderly including Linking Housing and Services for Older Adults: Obstacles, Options, and Opportunities; Housing the Aged: Design Directives and Policy Considerations; and Housing Frail Elders: International Policies, Perspectives and Prospects.
Pynoos was a delegate to the last three White House Conferences on Aging and is currently on the Public Policy Committee of the American Society of Aging (ASA). He previously served on ASA’s Board and as Vice President of the Gerontological Society of America. He is a founding member of the National Home Modification Action Coalition.

Pynoos has been awarded both Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships. Before moving to USC in 1979, Pynoos was Director of an Area Agency on Aging/Home Care Corporation in Massachusetts that provided a range of services to keep older persons out of institutional settings. He holds undergraduate, Master’s and PhD degrees from Harvard University where he graduated Magna cum Laude.

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Edward Schneider, M.D.

Emeritus Dean of the Andrus Gerontology Center, Professor of Gerontology, Medicine, and Biology

Edward Schneider, MD is a Professor of Gerontology at the Andrus Gerontology Center and a Professor of Medicine at the USC School of Medicine, with a joint appointment in Biological Sciences and Molecular Biology. Before coming to USC in 1986, Schneider was the Deputy Director of the National Institute on Aging and the Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, Gerontology Research Center, National Institute on Aging. Dr. Schneider’s research interests include: polypharmacy, geriatrics and health care costs of an aging population. Schneider was the first recipient of the William and Sylvia Kugel Chair of Gerontology. Schneider is the chairperson of the Los Angeles Elder Abuse Forensic Center Advisory Committee and is involved in elder abuse litigation.

Schneider and his team are looking at ways to reduce drug usage by older Americans because the more medications a person takes, the greater risk of drug-drug interactions or adverse drug reactions. Each year, 175,000 older adults, ages 65 and above are seen in Emergency Departments due to adverse drug reactions. About 15% of all hospitalizations in those 65 and older are due to drug reactions. Each year, 106,000 seniors die from drug problems.

Schneider is engaged in several clinical studies at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. In his initial study, he demonstrated that it was possible to wean patients off anti-hypertensive medications to reduce their risk of falls and other side effects. He is now exploring reducing the use of other common medications taken by older persons.

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Reginald Tucker-Seeley, Sc.D.

Edward L. Schneider Assistant Professor of Gerontology

Reginald Tucker-Seeley, MA, ScM, ScD, is the inaugural holder of the Edward L. Schneider chair in gerontology and Assistant Professor in the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California (USC).  Dr. Tucker-Seeley completed master and doctoral degrees in public health (social and behavioral sciences) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer prevention and control at HSPH and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI).

His research has focused primarily on social determinants of health across the life course, such as the association between the neighborhood environment and health behavior; and on individual-level socioeconomic determinants of multimorbidity, mortality, self-rated physical, mental, and oral health, and adult height.

Tucker-Seeley has received funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for research focused on the development of measures of financial well-being for cancer research. The first grant was an R21 titled “Development of a measure of financial well-being: Expanding our notion of SES” (1 R21 CA158248-01A1) and the second grant was a K01 Career Development grant titled “Financial well-being following prostate cancer diagnosis” (1K01CA169041-01).  He is also interested in the various ways neighborhood environment is defined and measured; and he is currently working on projects to create measures of neighborhood economic well-being.

Tucker-Seeley has a longstanding interest in the impact of health and social policy on racial/ethnic minorities and across socioeconomic groups.  He has experience working on local and state level health disparities policy, and in the measuring and reporting of health disparities at the state level.  Dr. Tucker-Seeley was recently selected for the 2017-2018 cohort of the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship Program.  The fellowship includes one year residency in Washington, DC working either in a federal congressional or executive office on health policy issues.

Before joining the faculty at USC, Tucker-Seeley was an Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and in the Center for Community Based Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Prior to graduate study at Harvard, he received an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Tulsa and worked in the accounting/ auditing field for five years, most recently as an internal auditor at Saint Louis University. He also completed an MA degree in Human Development Counseling from Saint Louis University and a clinical counseling internship at the Washington University Student Health and Counseling Service.

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Marc Vermulst, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Gerontology

The primary goal of the Vermulst laboratory is to identify the basic mechanisms that control human aging. The identification of these mechanisms would provide pivotal insight into the etiology of numerous age-related diseases, including cancer, neurodegeneration and heart disease. Thus, by elucidating the basic biology that underlies human aging, it may be possible to provide new treatments for various diseases that are currently endemic in Western society. This rationale shapes the research performed in the lab and ensures that it always operates at the crossroads between basic biology and medical urgency.

The Vermulst laboratory focuses primarily on the effect of biological errors in human aging and disease. Many age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, are caused by proteotoxic stress. When examined, the neuronal networks of these patients are crowded with protein aggregations that impair cognitive function. To delay the progression of these diseases, and ultimately to prevent them, it will be important to understand how protein aggregation is initiated. We have found a link between transcription errors and proteotoxic stress that helps explain the etiology of these diseases.

Another area of interest is mitochondrial mutagenesis. Mitochondria are frequently called the powerhouses of our cells. They supply our cells with energy and mediate numerous processes that are essential to human health. As we grow older, mitochondria decline in function, and this can have a negative effect on cells with a high metabolic load, especially muscle fibers and neurons. Although the mechanisms behind this age-related decline are unclear, it is thought that instability of mitochondrial DNA is a central component of this problem. A major goal of the lab is to unravel mtDNA genetics at a subcellular level to understand why mitochondrial function declines in aging muscle cells and neurons.

Marc Vermulst, PhD, trained at the University of Washington in Seattle under the guidance of Lawrence Loeb and Jason Bielas. He held his first faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia from 2013 to 2018. He received numerous awards for his research, from the NIH, the NIA and AFAR. He is currently focused on understanding the impact of biological errors on cellular and organismal function.

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George Shannon, Ph.D.

Instructional Associate Professor of Gerontology, Kevin Xu Chair in Gerontology

George Shannon, MSG, PhD, is an Instructional Associate Professor of Gerontology, holder of the Kevin Xu Chair in Gerontology and director of the Rongxiang Xu Regenerative Life Science Research Lab at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. He has taught 14 different courses at the USC Leonard Davis School, published seven peer-reviewed papers that investigated innovative ways to provide long-term care services to under-served older adults living in the community, in nursing homes and in assisted living, lectured at meetings and conferences in China and the U.S. and authored or co-authored 15 grant proposals and final reports to funding organizations, such as the California Healthcare Foundation, Kaiser-Permanente and the Motion Picture & Television Foundation. In addition, he has been an editor or reviewer for five top-rated Gerontology and Geriatrics Journals. Moreover, for 30 years he worked as an actor in Chicago, New York, Paris and Los Angeles, performing in theater, films and television. He studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York and Los Angeles and with Josephine Forsberg at Second City in Chicago.

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John Walsh Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Gerontology, Assistant Dean of Education

John Walsh, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Gerontology and a member of the Neuroscience Program at USC. He received his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of California, Irvine, and was awarded a PhD in physiology and biomedical sciences from the University of Texas School of Medicine in Houston. Walsh’s research focuses on the electrophysiological analysis of brain areas that are targets of age related disease. Studies on aging, calcium, and free radical physiology are performed in Dr. Walsh’s laboratory as they relate to changes in synaptic plasticity and cell behavior. His research also examines how toxic environmental challenges affect nerve cell populations typically lost in Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The focus of my laboratory is to understand dopamine and glutamate synaptic physiology in the striatum under normal and pathological conditions. We use the analysis of short and long-term synaptic plasticity at corticostriatal synapes to study striatal pathology and rely upon, whole cell voltage clamp, intracellular and field potential recordings in the analysis. We also use fast-cyclic voltammetry to study dopamine physiology in the same brain slices. A parallel study is being performed in aged animals to describe how aging impacts synaptic integration and the mechanisms for any observed changes caused by the aging process.

A second interest in the laboratory is to describe the modulation of synaptic function and key conductances in striatal neurons following the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) under conditions of hypoxia. Part of this NIH funded study uses the complex II inhibitor 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP) to examine acute and long-term survival and the synaptic consequences of chemical hypoxia.

We also have been studying the impact of MPTP treatment on striatal physiology in mice and squirel monkeys in collaboration with Drs. Mike Jakowec and Giselle Petzinger from USC’s Department of Neurology.

These research interests are connected by the underlying hypotheses that aging and disease create shifts in ROS homeostasis, which possibly follow similar pathways in the striatum.”

Kate-Wilbur

Kathleen Wilber Ph.D.

Mary Pickford Foundation Professor of Gerontology, Professor of Health Services Administration

Kathleen Wilber, PhD, focuses on improving health outcomes and quality of life for vulnerable elders, including those with chronic illness, disability, cognitive impairment, and/or economic insecurity by improving the design and delivery of LTSS. Her group’s current projects include:

  1. evaluating the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of the Elder Abuse Forensic Center model, a multidisciplinary team that links health and social services with the justice system;
  2. examining economic security indicators among diverse groups of older adults;
  3. developing a universal assessment for the State of California’s in-home Medicaid services; and
  4. determining how state, local market, and facility characteristics interact with individual characteristics to influence residents’ transitions from nursing facilities to community care.

Some past research projects have evaluated wellness interventions among frail older adults, models of integrated health care, and the role of care management in reducing costs and improving outcomes.

Elizabeth-Zelinski1

Elizabeth Zelinski, Ph.D.

Professor of Gerontology and Psychology, Rita and Edward Polusky Chair in Education and Aging

Elizabeth Zelinski, PhD, is a Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Dr. Zelinski has joint appointments in the Psychology Department, Neurosciences and the Study of Women and Men in Society (SWMS) Programs.

Zelinski graduated summa cum laude from Pace University and received her graduate degrees in psychology, with a specialization in aging, from the University of Southern California. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Claremont Graduate School.

Zelinski is the principal investigator of the Long Beach Longitudinal Study. This study evaluates cognition, memory and language comprehension in older adults as well as the relationship between peoples’ perceptions of their memory ability and their actual performance, and how these change as people grow old.