By Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow
Alyssa Falise, Christian McLaren and Shangchen Song, doctoral students representing three different University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions departments, were selected as 2023 recipients of the Leighton E. Cluff Award for Aging Research. This prestigious award recognizes outstanding scholarly pursuits in aging research among undergraduate and graduate students. Awarded through an endowment established in 2002 between the Center for Gerontological Studies in the College of Liberal Arts, the Geriatric Education Center in the College of Medicine, and Leighton E. Cluff, a professor emeritus in the College of Medicine, the fund supports students with research initiatives focused on the geriatric population and social impacts of aging.
Falise holds a Bachelor of Health Science and a Master of Science in Public Health, and she is currently a Ph.D. student in the department of epidemiology. Her research specialties and areas of interest include community health, substance use epidemiology, non-medical use of prescriptions, and mental health in older adults. Falise is recognized for a novel study published in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse, in which she explored the increase in opioid use disorder among older adults. The findings of her research showed a gap in screening rates for problematic prescription pain reliever use among older adults, as well as the need for a collaborative approach among medical specialists and enhanced addiction training to better identify older adults who may benefit from substance use treatment. Falise is mentored by Catherine Striley, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of epidemiology and deputy director of UF’s HealthStreet community engagement program, as well as Catalina Lopez-Quintero, M.D., M.P.H, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology.
McLaren holds a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology and is currently a Ph.D. student in the department of clinical and health psychology. His research interests encompass the intersection of physiology and psychology, focusing on the impact of lifestyle interventions on the physical and cognitive health of older adults, as well as mental well-being. McLaren is recognized for proposing a novel methodology that explores the relationship between circadian genes and mitochondrial fuel utilization in older adults. This methodology offers researchers a valuable tool to investigate the effects of interventions on these biological changes in older individuals. Together with his mentor, he intends to apply these techniques in an upcoming pilot study titled “Fuel and Rhythm.” This study aims to examine the impact of intermittent fasting, particularly time-restricted eating, on mitochondrial and circadian genes, and their influence on cognitive and physical functioning. McLaren is mentored by Stephen Anton, Ph.D., a professor and clinical research division chief with a dual appointment within the department of clinical and health psychology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the department of physiology and aging in the College of Medicine.
Song holds both a Bachelor and Master of Science in Statistics, and he is currently a Ph.D. student in the department of biostatistics. By incorporating machine learning models, data analysis and advanced statistical techniques in his research, Song endeavors to advance current knowledge of the aging process. His research interests combine dual passions for serving the geriatric population and statistics, with a focus on improving quality of life for older adults through the creation of preventative measures and personalized interventions for dementia. Song is awarded this accolade for the development of a forward-thinking statistical model that can be implemented by clinicians to aid in dementia onset prediction and risk factor identification. He is mentored by Zhigang Li, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of biostatistics, as well as Melissa Armstrong, M.D., an associate professor of neurology and director of the UF Health Mangurian Clinical-Research Headquarters for Lewy Body Dementia at the Normal Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases.