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.


Current Scholars

Current Phase 1Directly Supported

REC Scholars

deer-rachel05 Rachel Deer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of Rehabilitation Sciences
Research Areas: Clinical trials of interventions (nutrition, exercise, testosterone) for acceleration of functional recovery from hospitalization; Physical functioning and sarcopenia in older adults; Prevalence of malnutrition and sarcopenia at hospital admission; Protein metabolism

Mentors: Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, PhD, OTR, and Elena Volpi, MD, PhD

Dr. Deer’s research focuses on improving health outcomes of older adults with pragmatic and effective interventions.  She recently completed a pre-pilot clinical trial (PACE) examining the feasibility and effect size of targeted nutritional, exercise, and pharmacological interventions to accelerate recovery of strength and physical function in geriatric patients after hospitalization.  Her ongoing follow-up clinical trial (GRAMS) examines the efficacy of two promising new treatment strategies identified in the pre-pilot study: testosterone and whey protein.  The primary outcome of this Phase I double-blind placebo controlled randomized clinical trial is the recovery of physical function as measured by the Short Physical Performance Battery.  Secondary outcomes of interest are changes in lean mass, muscle strength, and hospital readmissions.

A key feature in developing intervention programs is to accurately classify individuals at high risk – so that treatments can be specifically delivered to those who will most benefit (precision medicine). Thus, Dr. Deer is currently working on an additional project (MASS) examining screening tools for malnutrition and sarcopenia in hospitalized older patients. She recently began collaborating with key stake-holders to implement better malnutrition screening tools into UTMB hospital workflows as a part of all geriatric patient’s intake questionnaires. Dr. Deer is also working to develop a prediction model of sarcopenia that will use provider-friendly measurements and can be easily implemented in a hospital or clinic setting to identify patients at risk for sarcopenia.

UTMB Research Expert Profile for Dr. Deer

dscf4070-edit Kimberly P. Hreha, EdD, OTR/L, Assistant Professor, Division of Rehabilitation Sciences

Research Areas: Rehabilitation outcomes, stroke, intervention studies, implementation, vision

Mentor: Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, PhD, OTR

To date, Dr. Hreha’s research has centered on post-stroke neurological vision impairments and spatial neglect deficits. Her past research has included improving outcome measurement tools and testing interventions in underserved populations and using different research methods. Now serving as a co-investigator of the ITS-CTSA Stroke Implementation Science Multidisciplinary Translational Team (MTT), she will expand her research to study age related vision conditions, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma. Visual impairment, neurological or age related, can negatively affect quality of life and functional independence as well as increase individuals’ risk for falls, depression, and medical costs. Those living in the community with visual impairment are encouraged to monitor their eye health, participate in rehabilitative treatments, learn strategies for continued safety, and follow eye medication regimes. There are effective vision self-management programs however; these empirical studies have been conducted on well elderly. Stroke survivors may have unique needs that cannot be adequately addressed with the current programs. The implementation of a stroke specific vision self-management program for community dwelling stroke survivors, living with visual impairment is essential. Dr. Hreha and the MTT research team plan to determine the feasibility of stroke specific self-management programs using a randomized controlled trial in community-dwelling participants.

Dr. Hreha will also utilize secondary analysis of Medicare claims data as a second line of research. She will focus her current investigations among Medicare beneficiaries who have experienced a stroke. Dr. Hreha is interested in determining prevalence and variation of vision impairments across post-acute Medicare beneficiaries. Lastly, she intends to explore health disparities among this cohort across the United States to look for regional trends.

UTMB Research Expert Profile for Dr. Hreha

moniquepappadis-edit Monique Pappadis, PhD, MEd, Assistant Professor, Division of Rehabilitation Sciences

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

rafael-samper-ternent-md-phd Rafael Samper-Ternent, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of Geriatrics, Department of Internal Medicine

Research Areas: Health disparities, functional and cognitive decline

Mentor: Elena Volpi, MD, PhDKenneth J. Ottenbacher, PhD, OTR, & Rebeca Wong, PhD

Dr. Samper-Ternent is a Clinician Scientist with a unique background in both patient care and research. Both his clinical and research activities focus on improving care and quality of life of older adults. He uses a multidisciplinary approach to analyze health disparities in different countries in Latin American and Hispanic adults in the United States. As an OAIC REC Scholar, he will focus on functional and cognitive decline of community dwelling older adults from different ethnic groups.

Dr. Samper-Ternent is also serving as project manager for the UTMB clinical site of the D-CARE Study.

UTMB Research Expert Profile for Dr. Samper-Ternent

Phase 2Transitioning to Independent Researcher

REC Scholars

Brian Downer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of Rehabilitation Sciences

Research Areas: Cognitive aging, risk factors for dementia and cognitive decline, minority aging

Mentor: Mukaila Raji, MD, and Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, PhD, OTR

Dr. Downer has recently received K01 funding to support his research and career development. The Hispanic Alzheimer's Risk Reduction Trial (HARRT) is an intervention meant to educate Hispanic adults about Alzheimer's disease and the benefits of engaging in a healthy lifestyle for cognitive health. The primary outcomes of interest are changes in knowledge about Alzheimer's disease, health behaviors (diet, physical activity), and social engagement.

Dr. Downer has also been using data from the Hispanic Established Populations for the Epidemiologic Study of the Elderly (H-EPESE) to study the relationship between physical limitations and cognitive impairment. Initial findings from this research indicate that cognitive impairment is an important risk factor for frailty and mortality among older pre-frail Mexican Americans. This work has also produced preliminary evidence that despite increases in chronic health conditions, Mexican Americans aged 77 and older in 2005-06 have lower odds for frailty compared to Mexican Americans 77 and older in 1995-96. Finally, Dr. Downer is in the early stages of using H-EPESE data to examine the proportion of dementia cases that may be attributable to limitations in physical functioning and the potential impact that reducing the prevalence of physical limitations may have on preventing dementia.

UTMB Research Expert Profile for Dr. Downer

Faculty Mentors

  • S. Al Snih, MD, PhD
  • J. Baillargeon, PhD
  • L. Evangelista, PhD, RN, CNS
  • J. S. Goodwin, MD
  • YF. Kuo, PhD
  • E. Lyons, PhD, MPH
  • K. Markides, PhD
  • K. Ottenbacher, PhD, OTR
  • D. Paddon-Jones, PhD
  • M. Raji, MD, MS
  • B. Rasmussen, PhD
  • G. Sharma, MD, MPH
  • O. Suman, PhD
  • E. Volpi, MD, PhD
  • R. Wong, PhD

Past 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Bartoz Szczesny, PhD, Age-dependent change in DNA base repair proteins
  • Elena Volpi, MD, PhD, Nutrition and muscle metabolism