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The goal of the Research Education Component is to increase the number of rigorously trained, extramurally competitive, and scientifically competent researchers who will conduct translational investigations, lead clinical research teams, and eventually mentor the next generation of scientists in geriatrics and gerontology.


Faculty Mentors

  • S. Al Snih, MD, PhD
  • J. Baillargeon, PhD
  • A. Berenson, MD, PhD
  • D. Brown, PT, PhD, FAPTA
  • P. Cram, MD, MBA
  • B. Downer, PhD
  • S. Fisher, PhD, PT, GCS
  • J. S. Goodwin, MD
  • YF. Kuo, PhD
  • E. Lyons, PhD, MPH
  • K. Markides, PhD
  • M. Morrow, PhD
  • D. Patel, PhD
  • M. Raji, MD, MS
  • H. Serag, MD, MPH
  • G. Sharma, MD, MPH
  • H. Spratt, PhD
  • O. Suman, PhD
  • S. Watowich, PhD
  • R. Wong, PhD

Request for RL5 Scholar Applications: Career development position in aging research, providing up to 50% Salary Support

Questions about the application may be directed to Brian Downer, PhD ( or James Goodwin, MD (

Current Scholars: Phase 1

REC Scholars

Yunfeng Chen, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Department of Pathology

Research Areas: Mechanobiology, Vascular biology, Hemostasis, thrombosis, Protein dynamics

Mentor: Vineet D. Menachery, PhD

Dr. Yunfeng Chen received his PhD degree in Bioengineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and received postdoctoral training at Scripps Research Institute. His research is mainly focused on molecular and cellular mechanobiology and its association with human physiology and disease pathology, especially in the vascular system. His previous studies unraveled the molecular mechanisms of platelet mechano-activation, discovered novel mechanobiological strategies for treating arterial thrombosis and auto-immune diseases, and provided single-molecule level characterization of force-regulated protein binding and conformational changes. Dr. Chen’s current research uses molecular biology and mechanobiology approaches to study how aging and diabetes affect the glycosylation of proteins in the vascular system, and how that contributes to the increased risk of arterial thrombosis in the elderly population. He will also explore a new strategy for preventing arterial thrombosis abiding by the emerging concept of ‘mechano-medicine’. Dr. Chen has received many (inter)national awards including Mary Rodes Gibson Memorial Award, Yuan-Cheng Fung Best Paper Award, and ICBME Young Scholars Award.

Erin Hommel, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatrics

Research Areas: Implementation science; Hip Fracture; Osteoporosis; Malnutrition; eHealth

Mentors:  James S. Goodwin, MD, Peter Cram, MD, MBA, and Gulshan Sharma, MD, MPH

Stemming from a background as a geriatrician and quality improvement director/educator, Dr. Hommel’s aim as a clinical scholar is to develop a foundation in implementation science to guide improvement in care for geriatric syndromes. Specifically, she desires to utilize dataset analysis alongside patient encounters to identify care gaps in geriatric syndromes and to design electronic health resources to close those care gaps. Her first clinical research project is entitled “Usability and Feasibility Testing of the My-Hip Fracture Web Application”. The My-Hip Fracture web application is designed to assist clinicians with providing personalized prognostic information to patients and their surrogates after hip fracture. Under the direction of mentors Dr. Peter Cram and Dr. Monique Pappadis, she will be analyzing, through mixed-methods techniques, the ability of the web application to improve shared decision making with these vulnerable patients.

Dr. Hommel's UTMB Research Expert Profile

Neil Mehta, PhD, MSc, MA

Neil K. Mehta, PhD, MSc, MA, Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public and Population Health

Research Areas: Obesity, cardiovascular disease, mortality, immigrant health, population dynamics

Mentor:  Rebeca Wong, PhD

Dr. Mehta’s research lies at the intersection of demography and epidemiology with a focus on the health and wellbeing of older adults. He has topical expertise in the areas of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and immigrant health. His prior work has contributed to our understanding of the effects of obesity on older-aged disability and mortality, the sources of socioeconomic status disparities in mortality during adulthood, and patterns and determinants of health and mortality among immigrants to the United States and Europe. Dr. Mehta brings a broad set of methodological skills in demography and epidemiology to OAIC including those related to longitudinal data analysis, survival analysis, traditional demographic methods, and the analysis of large-scale health and census data.

Dr. Mehta’s prior work has been supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. His current projects include understanding the causes of adverse trends in U.S. cardiovascular disease mortality, obesity dynamics across the life-course, and disparities in cognitive functioning by educational attainment level. As a Pepper Scholar, Dr. Mehta will analyze the role of cardio-metabolic risk factors in mid-life and subsequent trajectories of functioning into older age. This work will rely on the Health and Retirement Study.

Dr. Mehta has active research affiliations with the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Rostock, Germany), the University of Pennsylvania’s Population Aging Research Center, and Emory University’s Department of Global Health. He co-directs the NIA-funded TRENDS network on old-aged disability. Dr. Mehta previously was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at the University of Michigan and has served on the faculties of Emory University and the University of Michigan. He holds a PhD and MA in Demography from the University of Pennsylvania, an MSc from the London School of Economics, and a BA from Oberlin College.

Dr. Mehta's UTMB Research Expert Profile

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Huiwen Xu, PhD, MHA, Assistant Professor, Population Health & Health Disparities, School of Public and Population Health

Research Areas: Aging; cancer rehabilitation; long-term care

Mentor: James Goodwin, MD

Dr. Xu is a health services researcher with strong interest in aging, cancer rehabilitation, and long-term care. His past research has examined the hospitalization and emergency department (ED) visits of nursing home residents using national Medicare claims and Minimum Data Set data. His long-term career goal is to become a policy-relevant cancer rehabilitation researcher using large observational data.

Dr. Xu’s Pepper Center appointment focuses on improving physical function among older patients with cancer admitting to nursing homes. Functional impairments affect over 40% of hospitalized patients with cancer. After hospital discharge, about 20% of patients received rehabilitation in nursing homes to maintain functional independence. But existing literature did not examine the patterns, predictors, and potential disparities in the rehabilitation therapy received by patients with cancer admitted to nursing homes. More importantly, the benefits of excess rehabilitation on patient-oriented outcomes including physical function remains unknown. As an RL5 scholar, Dr. Xu will evaluate the effects of rehabilitation therapy on physical function, symptoms, survival, community discharge, and healthcare utilization among older patients with cancer admitted to nursing homes. He will leverage multiple data sources including the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER), Medicare claims (inpatient, outpatient, SNF, carrier), Minimum Data Set 3.0, etc.

Prior to joining UTMB, Dr. Xu worked as a Research Assistant Professor for two years at the University of Rochester NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) Research Base to design and analyze nationwide Phase III clinical trials in cancer survivorship and geriatric oncology. Dr. Xu has published extensively in leading medical journals including Lancet, JAMA Oncology, JAMDA, and Medical Care. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the AcademyHealth Methods and Data Council and Analytics Core of the Cancer and Aging Research Group.

Current Scholars: Phase 2

REC Scholars

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Sadaf Milani, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public and Population Health

Research Areas: Epidemiology of aging; cognition and dementia; health disparities, minority health, and gender disparities; pain and prescription opioid use 

Mentors: Rebeca Wong,PhDKyriakos Markides, PhD, and  Abbey Berenson, MD, PhD

Dr. Milani is an Epidemiologist whose work focuses on disparities among older adults in the United States and Mexico. Dr. Milani’s current research is focused on gender differences in pain and the association of pain with cognitive impairment. Her current research uses data from diverse, population-based, cohorts of aging, including the Mexican Health and Aging Study (MHAS), the Hispanic Established Population for the Epidemiological Study of the Elderly (H-EPESE), and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Dr. Milani is also a Building Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health (BIRCWH) Scholar.

UTMB Research Expert Profile for Dr. Milani


Andrew Murton, PhD

Andrew Murton, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery

Research Areas: Cellular mechanisms responsible for the loss of muscle mass in critical illness states; the impact of lifestyle and aging on muscle and whole-body metabolism; nutritional interventions to improve muscle mass and function following periods of illness and/or disuse

Mentors:  Blake Rasmussen, PhDStanley J. Watowich, PhD, and  Heidi Spratt, PhD

Dr. Murton completed his PhD and a postdoctoral fellowship in human metabolism and aging in the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Nottingham, England. After publishing several papers on muscle’s inability to respond to anabolic stimuli in old age (termed “anabolic resistance”), he became progressively more interested in exploring the cellular and metabolic mechanisms that lead to sarcopenia. When he came to UTMB as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery, he started working with our investigators in the basic mechanisms of sarcopenia to reverse translate his findings from humans to animal models.

His REC research will involve studying the mechanisms of sarcopenic obesity and the causative role of intramuscular lipid accumulation, building on Dr. Murton’s previous observations that muscle anabolic resistance is worsened by obesity in older adults. The purpose of Dr. Murton’s REC research will be to identify novel molecular mechanisms driving obesity-induced anabolic resistance in aging muscle.

UTMB Research Expert Profile for Dr. Murton


photo of woman Monique Pappadis, PhD, MEd, Associate Professor, Population Health & Health Disparities, School of Public and Population Health

Research Areas: Ethnic minority health and behavioral health disparities; Psychosocial adjustment to disability                         

Mentor: James. S. Goodwin, MD and Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, PhD, OTR

Mexican Americans have an increased risk of stroke in comparison to non-Hispanic Whites and report worse cognitive, functional, and neurological outcomes following stroke. It is well established that older adults with greater levels of mobility are likely to have lower rates of re-admissions and decreased mortality. Spatial mobility was initially conceptualized as ‘life space’, the space in which a person travels/moves over a specific time point. However, the initial assessment excluded the need for assistance. The Life-Space Mobility Assessment (LSA), developed at University of Alabama Birmingham, is a validated measure of community mobility in older adults during the 4 weeks prior to assessment. In addition, LSA accounts for assistance needed from a device or person. Using data from the Hispanic EPESE wave 7 (2010-2011) on Mexican Americans, the majority had restricted life-space, with nearly 80% limited to their home or neighborhood. To date, no study has identified the role of life space mobility as a potential protective factor in determining discharge destination, 30-day re-admission, and mortality following a stroke.

UTMB Research Expert Profile for Dr. Pappadis

Former Scholars

  • Soham Al Snih, MD, PhD, Obesity, frailty, disability, diabetes in older Mexican Americans
  • Felipe Amador, MD Social Factors and function ACE Unit
  • Sylvette Ayala-Peña, PhD, Reactive oxygen mitochondrial function and aging
  • Jose Barral, MD, PhD, Chaperone function in sarcopenia
  • Elisabet Borsheim, PhD, Transcapillary Insulin Transport and Aging
  • Quynh Bui, MD, MPH, Diabetes, and liver function
  • Brian Downer, PhD, Cognitive aging, risk factors for dementia and cognitive decline, minority aging
  • Hans Dreyer, PhD, PT, Nutritional and Regulation of Muscle Growth
  • Micah Drummond, PhD, MicroRNA’s and sarcopenia
  • Steve Fisher, PT, PhD, Activity in hospitalized older adults
  • Christopher Fry, PhD, Skeletal muscle physiology, muscle stem cell biology, skeletal muscle plasticity
  • Sharma, Gulshan, MD, MPH, Continuity of care
  • Kimberly Hreha, EdD, OTR/L, Rehabilitation outcomes, stroke, intervention studies, implementation, vision
  • Elizabeth Jaramillo, MD, Over-diagnosis & treatment, cancer
  • Lois Killewich, MD, PhD, Peripheral vascular and muscle function
  • Michael Kinsky, MD, Perioperative fluid management
  • Elizabeth Lyons, PhD, Video games and energy balance in older women
  • Addie Middleton, PhD, DPT, PT Post-acute care outcomes, functional independence
  • Melinda Moore, PhD, Exercise, muscle metabolism
  • Glenn Ostir, PhD, Positive affect, recovery from illness
  • Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, Muscle protein catabolism during inactivity and stress
  • Kristen Peek, PhD, Strength & disability in older Hispanics
  • Rene Przkora, MD, PhD, Improving outcomes of hip replacement
  • Mukaila Raji, MD, Muscle function and cognitive process in the elderly
  • Timothy Reistetter, PhD, OTR, Recovery from stroke
  • Rafael Samper-Ternent, MD, PhD, Health disparities, functional and cognitive decline
  • Bartoz Szczesny, PhD, Age-dependent change in DNA base repair proteins
  • Elena Volpi, MD, PhD, Nutrition and muscle metabolism