INTERVIEW Issue 011
Howard University Team of Professors Advancing Diversity in Aging Research with $1.9 Million NIH Grant
Professor Atanu Duttaroy, Department of Biology, recently described the parameters of his $1.9 million NIH grant for aging research titled, “Advancing Aging Research Through the Development of Minority Gerontologists.” The grant period is September 1, 2014 to August 31, 2019.
An interview with Dr. Duttaroy follows.
Q: Why is it important that more scholars of color engage in aging research?
Dr. Duttaroy: By 2030 we will be living in an America with 1 in 5 Americans 65 years or older. The ethnic minority portion of our population is growing at an amazing pace from 4.3 million persons in 1990 to 22.5 million expected by the year 2050. This nation needs to be prepared to deal with ethnically diverse minority elderly individuals who will account for more than 15% of older persons by 2020 and more than 21% of this group by 2050. Nationally, efforts are underway to develop a cadre of researchers who will create culturally sensitive health measures to assess the health status of minority elders with greater precision.
What does this research entail?
Dr. Duttaroy: Advancing Diversity in Aging Research at Howard University (HUADAR) is a program funded by NIH which will help us to achieve our overall goal to identify a cadre of minority scientists early during their undergraduate years, provide them with a foundation of knowledge and research skills through mentoring so these students will excel in the interdisciplinary field of gerontology.
Q: What is the nature of Howard’s collaborations with NIA, Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, George Washington University and the UT Health Sciences Center, San Antonio?
Dr. Duttaroy: A comprehensive research education plan designed for HUADAR trainees consists of the following components: (1) development of two new courses on aging, (2) exposure to aging research in various laboratories at Howard during students’ sophomore and junior years, (3) attending research seminars by prominent gerontologists, (4) a summer research apprenticeship opportunity outside Howard University in leading research institutes on aging like NIA Baltimore, UT Health Sciences Center, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown University Medical Centers, University of Maryland, and University of Washington, (5) writing an honors thesis/senior thesis during the senior year, (6) provision of one-on-one mentoring to build a successful career path. Thus, from their sophomore year up to the senior year, we have carefully laid out plans to educate the HUADAR trainees on different aspects of aging research, including the social aspects of aging.
Q: What are your short and long term goals in increasing the number of scholars of color conducting aging research?
Dr. Duttaroy: The long-term goal of HUADAR program is to prepare minority students as future researchers through scientific training and educational experiences and we will encourage them to seek aging research as a career goal. Thus, we will embrace the goal of NIH ADAR initiative to “fill a gap in the pipeline transitioning from undergraduate to graduate education in aging research as it relates to medicine, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to fulfill the objectives of the NIA Health Disparities Strategic Plan.”
Q: How will underrepresented populations be affected by your research?
Dr. Duttaroy: While the social scientists are evaluating the economic and societal impact of a large group of elderlies, studies on minority health have revealed some interesting eye-opening facts on health disparities among ethnic minorities. For example, there is (1) significantly reduced life expectancy for the African-American population compared to the European descendants; (2) disadvantaged social status and consistent exposure to a stressful environment, such as one affected by discrimination, with adverse outcomes on health, including increases in cardiovascular disease, chronic metabolic disorders, immune system failure, obesity and decreased cognitive and physical function; (3) Telomere length, a biological indicator of stress, is shorter among African Americans and Hispanic adults suggesting faster occurrence of cellular aging in these populations.
Therefore, Howard University has the ideal environment to identify a cadre of talented minority scientists early during their undergraduate years and it has the required resources to provide them with a foundation of knowledge and research skills through mentoring so that these students will excel in the interdisciplinary field of gerontology. Ultimately, these researchers will create culturally sensitive health measures to assess the health status of minority elders with greater precision.
Q: What are some of the career options for scholars of color in this field now and in the future?
Dr. Duttaroy: The three specific aims of this project are:
Aim 1: To develop a new curriculum to cultivate the knowledge on aging.
Aim 2: To provide extensive mentoring and summer research opportunities to build a comprehensive insight into aging research.
Aim 3: To prepare students on presentation and scientific writing skills
Together, these aims will foster motivation among HUADAR trainees to consider graduate school or building professional careers in gerontology and geriatrics in future. Major matrices to be used for measuring the success of the program are (1) assessing the number of trainees recruited and successfully completing their undergraduate degrees, and most importantly (2) determining what proportion HUADAR trainees chose to continue with aging-related research either in graduate school or in other professional careers.
Q: Do you wish to add anything to this interview?
Dr. Duttaroy: Although the concept is still in the making, our ultimate goal is to build a Center for Aging Research at Howard University. For that purpose, we have to first be successful with this program.
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