University Research Corridor Institutions Awarded $3.5M to Continue Gerontology Research


Detroit’s Wayne State University, East Lansing’s Michigan State University, and Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan together received a $3.5-million grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging to extend the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research (MCUAAAR) to Flint, WSU announced Monday.

The three universities make up the University Research Corridor, a research alliance that leverages the intellectual capital of the institutions, and the work will be done through the Institute of Gerontology at WSU.

The center has been continuously funded since 1997 and will expand its work through 2023. It is one of 18 Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research in the country. These centers work to improve the health of older minorities through research, scholarship, and education.

“It has two major aims,” says Peter Lichtenberg, who helps direct the center and is the director of the Institute of Gerontology at WSU. He is also a co-principal investigator. “Increase the number of diverse junior faculty working in aging and health research, and partner with older African-Americans in meaningful ways to improve health and well-being.”

African-Americans have significantly higher rates than Caucasians of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain cancers as they age. The center’s scholars investigate causes and prevention methods.

“MCUAAAR has operated as a resource for the Detroit older community for over 20 years,” says James Jackson, research professor at the Institute for Social Research and the grant’s principal investigator. He also helps direct the center. “It has assisted in transforming innumerable lives of community-dwelling elders of color and faculty members at Wayne State and the University of Michigan in the process. We are very pleased that MSU will be joining us this year to begin expanding our work to Flint and MSU at Flint.”

Center scholars are chosen each year and matched with mentors to conduct pilot studies, present research findings, and publish journal articles. More than 60 minority pilot scholars, 70 percent of which are African-American, have completed the center’s training, and two-thirds of these scholars are now tenured university professors.

The most recent 15 scholars published more than 200 research papers and are investigators on 92 grants totaling $60 million in funding. The center maintains a database of about 1,300 older African-Americans in Detroit willing to volunteer for research and plans to extend this opportunity to older African-Americans in Flint through MSU.

The Healthier Black Elders Center (HBEC), under the leadership of MCUAAAR, provides educational programs and health screenings to about 2,400 older African-Americans each year.

Many participants in HBEC become willing to participate in research, which is especially important because minorities have long been underrepresented. HBEC builds connections, partners with organizations, and provides free educational and health workshops by research experts. All of the center’s research projects are approved by HBEC’s 15-person Community Advisory Board before participants can be recruited, ensuring a person- and community-based perspective rooted in the goals and values of the initiative.

The grant renewal expands the work into Flint under the leadership of Joan Ilardo, co-principal investigator and director of research initiatives of the MSU College of Human Medicine. She also helps direct the center.

“Michigan State has extensive programs in Flint through the College of Human Medicine’s Division of Public Health, the School of Social Work’s master’s degree program, and Cooperative Extension workshops and training that promote health and well-being,” says Ilardo. “Being part of MCUAAAR provides an avenue for us to expand our work with Flint’s older adults as we establish a Healthier Black Elders Center in Flint based on the successful Center in Detroit.”

Nearly 40 percent of Flint residents live below the poverty line, and the area ranks high in environmental toxins from abandoned industrial sites.

“In the past 20 years, we’ve made a profound, sustainable improvement in minority research and scholarship,” says Lichtenberg. “But no one is resting on previous accomplishments. Until health disparities vanish, our mission continues.”