Pepper Career Development Awards

The Research and Education Component issues requests for proposals every two-years to fund up to three Pepper Career Development Awards per cycle. These awards go to Duke early-career investigators with promise in the field of aging research in reserve and resilience.

Career Development Award Cohorts

Leah Acker

Leah Acker, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor in Anesthesiology

Pilot testing of a non-invasive, neuroimmune modulation tool—transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS)—to enhance perioperative cognitive resilience in older adults


Sonali Advani

Sonali Advani, MBBS, MPH
Assistant Professor of Medicine - Infectious Diseases

Choosing urinary tests wisely to prevent infection-related stressors that impact resilience in older adults

My main research interests include prevention of catheter-related harm, implementation of diagnostic stewardship interventions, quality improvement, and improving metrics to better align with outcomes.

Kimberly Hreha

Kimberly Hreha, EdD
Assistant Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery

Evaluating Physical Resilience and Best Practices in Vision Rehabilitation of Stroke Patients: A Mixed Methods Approach

My independent line of research has evolved to not only study spatial attention disorders, but vision impairments due to age and neurological conditions. The strategy of my lab is to use multiple methods such as secondary data analyses and intervention development, in order to close research gaps and ultimately improve the visual and cognitive health of aging stroke survivors.

Brian Andonian, MD (Division of Rheumatology and Immunology/Dept. of Medicine)
Accelerated metabolic aging in rheumatoid arthritis immune cells and skeletal muscle: A pilot study

 Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a model disease for studying premature aging. Persons with   RA suffer from early aging-associated metabolic comorbidities, and are at risk for low   resilience, a decreased ability to resist functional decline. Mitochondrial function in RA and   aging is a marker of cellular reserve, and is thus important for preserving resilience. RA and   aged immune cells have abnormal mitochondrial function, which coincide with immune   dysregulation. Skeletal muscle in both RA and aging is also marked by altered   mitochondria. The pilot study will investigate whether dysfunction of mitochondria, the   cellular metabolic “engine,” connects RA peripheral helper T-cells, macrophages and   skeletal muscle abnormalities.

Objectives are twofold: to determine whether RA T cell, macrophage and skeletal muscle mitochondrial function abnormalities are associated; and to determine associations of exercise training on RA immune cell and skeletal muscle mitochondria.

Ming-Feng Hsueh, PhD (Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery)
Harness human cartilage repair capability to prevent and reverse osteoarthritis

Humans have a natural cartilage repair response which is high in the ankle, intermediate in the knee and low in hip cartilages. This repair response in humans is highly associated with the microRNAs used by salamanders and other limb regenerating animals to regenerate whole limbs. This project will evaluate the ability of microRNAs as a therapy to improve cartilage resilience to injury in vitro, and build the foundation for further evaluation in animals for microRNAs' ability to prevent and reverse the most prevalent of age-related diseases, osteoarthritis, for which we currently have no disease-modifying treatments.

Daniel C. Parker, MD (Division of Geriatrics/Dept. of Medicine)
Identification of biomarkers of cognitive resilience in the Duke Performance Across the LifeSpan (PALS) Study

Cognitive resilience is defined as preserved cognitive function in the setting of “stressors” that adversely affect cognitive function; it may explain – in part – the heterogeneity of cognitive function in older adults who otherwise appear clinically similar, especially with respect to risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). Blood-based biomarkers of cognitive resilience would be useful to identify protective factors and test resilience-building interventions that preserve cognitive function in the setting of these stressors; currently, no such biomarkers exist. Building on previous work, I propose to develop a measure of cognitive resilience in a subset of community-dwelling older adults from the Duke Performance Across the LifeSpan (PALS; N=297) study with repeat cognitive testing over 3 years. Using this measure, I will identify biomarkers reflecting dysregulation in "Hallmarks of Aging" pathways that are predictive of cognitive resilience.

Nazema Siddiqui, MD (Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology)
Effects of aging and the urinary microbiome on recurrent urinary tract infections

Specific interests include: 1) pathophysiology of overactive bladder with particular emphasis on epigenetic mechanisms; and 2) studying the urinary microbiome with aging and in women with recurrent urinary tract infection. Additional interests include clinical outcomes research after surgery for prolapse and other pelvic floor disorders.

Corey Simon, DPT, PhD (Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery)
Physical Resilience to Pain with Activity Influences among Seniors (PRAISE) – Feasibility Study

Research focuses on development of tailored multi-factorial interventions that prevent disability among older adults with low back pain. Low back pain poses a major risk to senior health, as it is the global leader in years lived with disability and strongly associated with mobility disability. However, it is not clear why some older adults with low back pain succumb to mobility disability while others do not. This REC study will determine the feasibility of assessing three factors that may explain mobility disability among older adults with low back pain: pain with activity, fear of movement, and dynamic inflammatory response to movement.

Tony Sung, MD (Division of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapy/Dept. of Medicine)
High intensity interval training to improve pre- and peri-transplant function and outcomes

    Research focuses on strategies to reduce complications of HCT and ranges from preclinical studies using murine models of HCT to Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials. Areas of interest include the role of the microbiota (the trillions of bacteria living in and on our bodies), nutrition, and exercise in modulating HCT outcomes such as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and infections.

    Jason Allen, PhD, Cardiology

    Kelli Allen, PhD, General Internal Medicine

    Raquel R. Bartz, MD, Anesthesiology

    Dan Belsky, PhD, Geriatrics

    Beverly Brummett, MD, Medical Psychology

    James T. Cavanaugh PT, PhD, Geriatrics

    Jessica Chia, MD, Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine

    Jennifer Dungan, RN, PhD, School of Nursing

    William Michael Foster, PhD, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

    Farshid Guilak, PhD, Orthopedic Surgery and Cell Biology

    Katherine Hall, PhD, Geriatrics

    Rasheeda Hall, MD, Nephrology

    Susan Nichole Hastings, MD, Geriatrics

    Matthew Hirschey, PhD, Chemistry and Biochemistry

    Kim Huffman, MD, Rheumatology and Immunology

    Kimberly Johnson, MD, Geriatrics

    Lee Jones, PhD, Radiation Oncology

    Timothy Koves, PhD, Geriatrics

    Richard Lee, MD, Endocrinology and Metabolism

    Helen Lum, MD, Geriatrics

    David Madden, PhD, Psychiatry and Behaviorial Sciences

    Micah McClain, MD, Infectious Diseases

    Mehri McKellar, MD, Infectious Diseases

    Deborah M. Muoio, PhD, Endocrinology & Metabolomics

    Kent Nilsson, MD, Cardiology

    Amy Pastva, PhD, Community and Family Medicine

    Juliessa Pavon, MD, Geriatrics

    Matthew Peterson, PhD, Geriatrics

    Thomas Povsic, MD, Cardiology

    Jama L. Purser, PT, PhD, Geriatrics

    Arati Rao, MD, Medicine

    Gregory Sempowski, PhD, Duke Human Vaccine Institute

    Svati H. Shah, MD, MHS, Epidemiology, Medical Genomics

    Heather E. Whitson, MD, Geriatrics