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USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Assistant Professors Cleopatra Abdou and Sean Curran have been named the 2015 recipients of the Hanson Thorell Family Research Awards, grants aimed at supporting junior faculty members as they explore new avenues of research.

Curran and Abdou will each receive $25,000 to support a one-year pilot research project. The awards are designed to promote innovative, original research, especially projects that have the potential to be converted into five-year major grants.

Abdou’s award will support her investigation of “healthcare stereotype threat,” the concept that stereotypes regarding unhealthy lifestyles, low status, and inferior intelligence affect aging minorities and how they perceive they may be treated in healthcare settings. The first study of its kind, the proposed research will use data from both the Health and Retirement Study in the U.S. and the American Life Panel to examine the relationship between healthcare stereotype threat and health decisions, behaviors, and outcomes among older African Americans and Latinos as compared to those of Whites, Abdou stated in her proposal.

“This research is poised to provide new insight into the persistence of later life health disparities and their prevention. This work will identify necessary, low-cost modifications to medical education, patient and provider education, and larger institutional and public policy,” Abdou wrote. “The expected positive impacts of the proposed research include the ability to create stereotype-safe healthcare environments.”

Curran’s grant will fund the translation of his research group’s most recent discoveries in worms into mouse models where they can more readily test the interplay of specific genes and diet on healthspan, but in a mammalian system. The diet-gene pairs his team has identified are the next step toward creating a personalized approach to successful aging, and this project continues his group’s established and successful approach utilizing C. elegans as a screening tool to inform directed studies in mouse models, Curran said.

These new studies are only possible with the help of this award and will pave the way for new ways of thinking about the aging process and designing innovative approaches to tackle the many conditions that manifest with age, he added.

“The support from this grant will provide the resources needed to generate strong preliminary data needed for a successful R01 application. This funding allows my group to try risky but high reward research,” Curran said. “At this stage in my career getting funds to try new ideas and to push current studies to the next level is rare. I am incredibly thankful to the Hanson Thorell family for their support, and I am excited to use this award to accelerate my research program.”

Davis School Vice Dean Kelvin Davies, Chair of the Hanson Thorell Family Research Awards Committee, noted the extremely high quality of all the applications which made it a tough assignment for the committee to decide this year’s winners.

“Drs. Abdou and Curran submitted compelling proposals and their vision won-out even in the face of intense competition,” he said. “We are immensely proud of all our junior faculty colleagues, and the Hanson Thorell Family Research Award submissions epitomized the high caliber of academic excellence that is crucial to the future success of the Davis School of Gerontology.”

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