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Can exercise preserve brain health? Can a fasting diet heal heart damage? Two new studies aim to answer these questions. As recipients of the 2021 Hanson-Thorell Family Research Awards, Research Assistant Professors T. Em Arpawong and Sebastian Brandhorst will each receive $25,000 in funding for one-year pilot projects exploring the benefits of these lifestyle factors.

Arpawong will investigate whether cumulative exercise, from adolescence through older age, can preserve cognitive function, and if so whether it does this by helping slow the pace of aging through epigenetic modification to change gene expression and protect and preserve brain health. Her findings will help inform public health recommendations to support healthy aging.

Brandhorst will examine whether fasting-mimicking diets can improve recovery after a heart attack, or myocardial infarction, in mice. He plans to use results from his study as the basis for a National Institutes of Health application for a grant to evaluate the use of fasting-mimicking diets in existing heart attack management strategies, with the goal being to translate the findings into clinical trials.

The Hanson-Thorell Family Research Awards support junior USC Leonard Davis School faculty members as they explore new avenues of research, providing a foundation that leads to further grant support for their work. Supported in part by USC Leonard Davis Board of Councilors Chair Shari Thorell and her husband, Bob, the awards originated with funding from Shari’s father, former Board of Councilors Chair Al Hanson.

Em Arpawong portrait

Research Assistant Professor T. Em Arpawong


Sebastian Brandhorst portrait

Research Assistant Professor Sebastian Brandhorst

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