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Summer Aging Immersion: Training Future Researchers

MSTAR Mentor Dr. Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk and her trainee Stephen Macaspac



On a Friday morning, students arrive on the UC San Diego campus to see a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and learn about changes in the brain with age, along with the various types of dementia. Another afternoon, these same students experience first-hand what it is like to be visually impaired, have stiff joints and hearing loss, and its impact on being able to perform basic activities, such as reading a nutrition label, writing a check, and looking up a phone number. One morning, these same students talk with faculty to discuss career options in aging and the possibilities of choosing a research career in geriatrics. Another day, they are off to visit Senior Behavioral Health, an inpatient program at UC San Diego designed to treat and care for people sixty-five and older with mental health concerns related to aging, chronic health problems, loss of loved ones, or other stressful life events. In addition to these various activities, these medical students from all over the country work alongside a faculty member on a research project deciphering different aspects of aging.

This is a snapshot of some of the many activities a participant of the Medical Student Training in Aging Research (MSTAR) Program at the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging and the Stein Institute for Research on Aging experiences during their summer internship funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

With an insufficient number of specialists in aging and geriatric medicine, along with the need for more individuals to pursue research careers, the MSTAR Program is one step being taken to address this shortage.

 Medical students come from all over the country to learn more about aging from our faculty members. This year’s research projects are vast and include topics such as physical activity, aging with a serious mental illness, cannabis and its effect on older adults, improving cognition after cancer, gender difference in sleep, and characteristics of patients presenting to emergency departments for a fall-related complaint.

Some students work in a clinic, others in wet labs like Stephen Macaspac. Stephen came to San Diego from Hawaii, where he attends The John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He spent his summer exploring the lipid elongation enzyme, ELOVL2, as molecular regulator of aging thanks to his mentor Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, PhD, assistant professor at the Department of Ophthalmology.

“The MSTAR Program is an incredibly valuable program for both students and mentors. It is a great satisfaction to observe students gain the confidence and skills needed to become future scientists in such an important field,” said Dr. Skowronska-Krawczyk.

This was the fifteenth year of the MSTAR Program at UC San Diego. Many of our past trainees from the first cohorts continue training as geriatricians and geriatric psychiatrists. We look forward to following this year’s students over time to see just where they end up on their career path.