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USC researchers are looking into whether the composition of our diets and the amount of food we eat can impact heart and brain health as we age. As recipients of the 2021 Hanson-Thorell Family Research Awards, Instructional Associate Professor Roberto Vicinanza and Assistant Professor Joseph Saenz will each receive $25,000 in funding for one-year pilot projects exploring these nutrition-related topics.

Roberto Vicinanza portrait

Instructional Associate Professor Roberto Vicinanza

Vicinanza will examine whether following a Mediterranean diet can positively affect mitochondrial function and markers of oxidative stress, and potentially predict the risk for cardiovascular events in older adults.

“This study will provide new insights on the role of mitochondrial-derived peptides (MDPs) and oxidative stress in patients with cardiovascular diseases and propose MDPs as potential novel biomarkers for Mediterranean diet adherence and response,” said Vicinanza.

Joseph Saenz portrait

Assistant Professor Joseph Saenz

Saenz, holder of the Leonard and Sophie Davis Early Career Chair in Minority Aging, will investigate whether experiencing late-life food insecurity negatively impacts cognitive function. His study focuses on older adults in Mexico and can have important implications for global health and policy.

“Addressing food insecurity may improve cognitive health among older adults, particularly in low- and middle-income countries that are rapidly aging and seeing increases in dementia,” said Saenz.

The Hanson-Thorell Family Research Awards support 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.

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