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Walsemann Receives Independent Scientist Award to Continue Research on Dementia, Related Causes

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Katrina Walsemann's headshot on a background of an image of brain scans

Katrina Walsemann, Roger C. Lipitz Chair in Health Policy and professor at UMD’s School of Public Policy, has received an exciting award that will extend her important research on dementia. Walsemann received the National Institute on Aging’s K02 Independent Scientist Award, a career development grant that will provide Walsemann with protected time to engage in an intensive period of training in genetics and dementia and to develop strategic collaborations that will facilitate her success in the field. 

The K02 mechanism is designed for mid-career researchers – those with their first, active R01 grant – who can demonstrate the need for a period of intensive research focus that will accelerate their research careers. Only six institutes at the National Institutes of Health support this award and each institute has slightly different eligibility criteria and levels of support, but Walsemann says, “If you’re eligible it is a wonderful opportunity to enhance your research career.” 

The research Walsemann will conduct as part of the K02 grant will build on Walsemann’s current R01 project funded by the National Institute on Aging, “State and Local Educational Contexts of Older U.S. Adults and Their Association with Cognitive Impairment and Dementia.” While there is a strong genetic component to dementia, it is not deterministic: People with genetic risk for dementia may never develop dementia and vice versa. This suggests a strong environmental component. Previous research has shown that education is one of the most important social determinants of dementia risk, however researchers have discovered that it isn’t only about how much schooling one completes, but also the quality of schooling that matters. Walsemann’s research aims to discover to what extent one’s early educational environment shapes genetic susceptibility to dementia later in life. 

“If it is possible to identify what it is about schools that reduces genetic risk for dementia, targeted educational policies can be developed that result in fewer people living with dementia in the future,” said Walsemann.  

The K02 provides a total of $723,775 over a five year period. As part of the K02, Walsemann identified six experts in the fields of genetics and/or dementia who will serve as collaborators on her team. These six experts include Jason Boardman from the University of Colorado Boulder, Eileen Crimmins from the University of Southern California, Ben Domingue from Stanford University, Jessica Faul from the University of Michigan, Carey Gleason from the University of Wisconsin, and Pamela Herd from Georgetown University.

Walsemann will spend the first two years of the K02 learning about genetics and dementia and how to conduct this type of research, as well as building collaborations with her K02 team. She plans to build her knowledge and skills by attending webinars, in-person workshops, and professional conferences; and will also be spending significant time at USC, Colorado, and Michigan with her collaborators. In the final three years of the K02, Walsemann will conduct the proposed research, publish and present the results, and apply for additional funding to support her research program as well as create infrastructure for others at UMD who are interested in conducting aging and dementia research.   


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