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2023 Pilot Projects

Raisa Hernández Pacheco, California State University, Long Beach

Dr. Hernández-Pacheco studies the processes governing the evolution and maintenance of individual variability within populations. Her pilot study will quantify the effects of environmental instability on social gradients of health by investigating links between hurricane exposure and individual cognitive decline in a socially stratified nonhuman primate population.

Brian Sweis, Mount Sinai Hospital

Dr. Sweis is a physician-scientist psychiatrist who uses cross-species approaches to study the neuroeconomics of decision making. He is interested in quantifying how the physical limits of the brain give rise to biases when making complex choices—sometimes leading to outcomes that contradict one’s own best interests. His pilot project will use mouse models to measure how sensitivity to regret and the pursuit of social rewards change across the lifespan. His team will measure responses of the brain’s reward system in vivo in order to better understand how complex decision systems may interact when representing missed opportunities for social contact. 

2022 Pilot Projects

Nathaniel Jenkins, University of Iowa

 Dr. Jenkins examines the physiological and behavioral mechanisms linking early life psychosocial stress (ELS) with cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. His pilot project will test whether ELS, specifically maternal separation, affects vascular aging in rats.

Brian Sweis, Mount Sinai Hospital

Dr. Sweis uses a neuroeconomics approach to quantify how the physical limits of the brain give rise to biases in making complex choices, including those counter to an animal’s own self-interest. His pilot project will use experimental mouse models for decision-making to investigate how sensitivity to regret changes across the life course and in response to social status.

Gagan Wig, UT Dallas & UT Southwestern Medical Center

Dr. Wig’s work shows that connections in the brain become more disorganized with age, and that these changes in the brain’s network predict aging-related decline. His pilot award will support the development of an experimental mouse model to study this process in mice over time. It will lay the foundation for cross-species comparative analysis to identify the causes and consequences of brain network decline during aging.

2021 Pilot Projects

Christi Gendron, University of Michigan​

Dr. Gendron uses Drosophila to understand the underlying neurobiology of how social interactions promote healthy aging. To accomplish this task, her lab has developed new tools that enabling them to activate and/or inhibit neurons in freely moving animals; they can therefore design powerful experiments that create spontaneous social experiences in the absence of natural cues or that “treat” individuals by activating remedial neural circuits in response to specific social behaviors in order to provide life-long protection from their effects. These experiments will provide new insights into how social interactions and their underlying neural networks directly impact aging.

Matthew Zipple, Cornell University

Dr. Zipple will study the role of social adversity in determining rates of biological aging in house mice living in outdoor field enclosures. House mice are the most common biomedical model study system, yet little is known about their social determinants of aging under ecologically relevant social conditions. Working with his postdoctoral advisor, Dr. Michael Sheehan, and his pilot award mentor, Dr. Jenny Tung, he will build an epigenetic clock that can reliably measure biological age in house mice living outside under natural social circumstances and apply this tool to understand the role of social adversity on individual aging trajectories.

Stacy Rosenbaum, University of Michigan

Dr. Rosenbaum will use a long-term data set to investigate wild mountain gorillas, which do not appear to suffer fitness costs when they lose their mothers at a young age. Using these data she will determine what constitutes early adversity in one of humans’ closest living relatives; to establish whether their resiliency to maternal loss is generalizable to other sources of adversity; and to determine whether they suffer health consequences of early adversity. Answering these questions will establish groundwork for exploring the bio-social pathways through which early environments influence health and survival.

2020 Pilot Projects

Kristen Berendzen, UC San Francisco​

Social isolation and loss of social attachments have been associated with increased risk of numerous age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and all-cause mortality. However, our understanding of the links between social attachment behavior and peripheral physiological health has been limited by the lack of genetic animal models displaying adult attachment behavior. Kristen Berendzen proposes to use the prairie vole, an animal that forms long term pair bonds, as a genetic model for examining the mechanistic link between social attachment and these diverse health outcomes. This work, under the mentorship of Dr. Alessandro Bartolomucci, will help to clarify the complex interaction between social behavior and cardiometabolic health and may result in new therapeutic avenues for age-related diseases.

Amanda Dettmer, Yale University​

Dr. Dettmer will examine the influences of differing social environments early in life on biomarkers of inflammation in adulthood in rhesus macaques, with a particular focus on a novel biomarker of chronic inflammation, soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (suPAR). Dr. Dettmer will also investigate the role of chronic inflammation on adult health outcomes as a function of early social experiences.

Michael Sheehan, Cornell University​

In his lab, Dr. Sheehan will examine the effects of costly status signaling on healthy aging in the lab and field enclosures, using the major urinary protein pheromones of house mice as a model system