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Funding Opportunies

Current Funding Opportunities

2024-2025 Pilot Award Program in Aging Research

The University of Rochester Aging Institute (URAI) is soliciting grant applications to support up to two aging research projects, with a focus on basic or clinical aging research topics. It is anticipated that one award will be in basic aging research and one in clinical aging research. Pilot research that falls anywhere along the translational research continuum is welcome. The award level is up to $50,000 for one year, per award.

The goal of this pilot program is to fund new collaborative research studies that will support future applications for funding from NIA or other extramural sources. Collaborative projects that involve multiple PIs, as well as projects from investigators who have not previously worked in aging research are encouraged. Awards will be based on scientific merit, innovation and responsiveness to this RFA. See information on our mission, vision & priorities.


Solicitation and Review Process

Phase 1: Applicants submit one-page abstracts summarizing their proposals. Abstracts will be reviewed and applicants selected to submit full applications.

Phase 2: A subset of applicants will be invited to submit full proposals (3 pages).

View the 2024-2025 Pilot Awards RFA

Important Dates

Release Date

November 13, 2023


The following dates apply to the most recent solicitation:

  • December 18, 2023 at 5:00 p.m. – Initial abstracts of proposals must be received. 
  • January 19, 2024 – Applicants from whom full proposals will be solicited will be notified. 
  • March 11, 2024 at 5:00 p.m. – Full proposals must be received.
  • May 6, 2024 – Notifications of Award will be made. 
  • July 1, 2024 – The anticipated start date.

Note: All animal and human subject protocols must be approved prior to the start date. No funds for research project costs may be released until all required human subjects and animal welfare approvals have been received.

Awarded Pilot Projects


Pilot Testing of a Novel Palliative Care intervention (AKI-DIALYSIS) to Help Critically Ill Older Adults and Families with Dialysis Decision-Making


Fahad Saeed, MBBS, MS, FASN – Associate Professor – Department of Medicine and Department of Public Health Sciences
Kevin A. Fiscella, MD, MPH – Professor of Family Medicine – Departmnent of Medicine, Department of Public Health Sciences, Center for Community Health and Prevention
Ronald M. Epstein, MD – Professor of Family Medicine – Department of Family Medicine, Wilmot Camcer Institute, Department of Medicine

Summary: Older adults over 75 are increasingly needing dialysis for acute kidney injury (AKI) in the US. This is more common than end-stage kidney disease and comes with high costs and poor outcomes. However, clinicians often don't engage patients and families in discussions about treatment options, prognosis, or the impact of dialysis on future life. Older patients value quality of life over extending life, but this isn't discussed either. Unfortunately, many patients with AKI receiving dialysis die in the ICU, and survivors frequently have a lower quality of life. The study aims to improve decision-making for AKI by adapting and testing a palliative care intervention called AKI-DIALYSIS. The study team will get feedback from stakeholders and test the intervention for feasibility and acceptance. This study is innovative as it's the first to help older adults and families make decisions about acute dialysis.

Transdifferentiation of Synovial Extracellular Matrix Producing Fibroblast to Inflammatory Fibroblast in Osteoarthritis During Natural Aging


Xi Lin, PhD – Research Assistant Professor – Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Consultant: Meghan L Falsetta, PhD – Assistant Professor – Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Pharmacology and Physiology

Summary: Osteoarthritis is a debilitating disease affecting 300 million people worldwide with no disease modifying therapies. Our current understanding of OA pathology is mostly based on biopsy samples of about 1% of patients with severe OA undergoing joint replacement procedures. Aging is the greatest OA risk factor OA. Unlike OA joints that require knee replacement procedures, usually accompanied by surround soft tissue hypertrophy and synovitis, natural aging joints present a distinct atrophy phenotype. Interestingly, our recent single cell RNA sequencing data of knee joint soft tissue from natural aging mice revealed the loss of the extracellular matrix producing synovial fibroblast that differentially express the early growth response 1 (Egr1) transcription factor. In this application we will elucidate the upstream regulation of Egr1 transcription in synovial fibroblast, and investigate whether the loss of Egr1 leads to the loss of the extracellular matrix producing phenotype of synovial fibroblast and age-related OA progression. Modulating Egr1 and synovial fibroblast may translate to the development of early preventative or interventional therapies for OA during aging.

The Impact of Age on the Phenotype and Function of CAR-T Cells in Patients with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma: Implications for Toxicity and Outcomes*


Carla Casulo, MD – Associate Professor – Department of Medicine and Wilmot Cancer Institute
Danielle Wallace, MD – Associate Professor – Department of Medicine and Division of Hematology & Oncology
Tim Mosmann, PhD – Professor – Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Center for Vaccine Biology & Immunology

Summary: Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy is utilized in patients with relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). This procedure transduces a patient’s own T-cells with a receptor that targets a cell surface antigen on lymphoma cells, thereby making use of the patient’s immune system as therapy. This only results in disease control for about 50% of patients, who are at risk for severe toxicity due to cytokine release. Consequently, older patients with DLBCL are less likely to be offered CAR-T therapy due to perceived inability to physiologically tolerate severe toxicity. There is limited prognostic information to guide clinicians on an individual’s ultimate benefit from CAR-T therapy or risk of severe toxicity, which makes the decision to offer this therapy to older patients more challenging. The proposed study plans to analyze CAR-T samples to identify specific cell types and cytokines associated with patients’ age, that will be correlated with their response and toxicity, with the plan to identify these age-related cell changes in future samples. This would allow for a subsequent clinical study to identify factors that are predictive of patient’s response or toxicities, to guide older patients on the likelihood of their individual outcome.

*Funded by the URAI and Wilmot Cancer Institute


Aging of Transcriptional Enhancers In Drosophila Tissues


Benoit Biteau, Ph.D., Associate Professor – Department of Biomedical Genetics
Patrick Murphy, Ph.D., Assistant Professor – Department of Biomedical Genetics

Summary: Aging is characterized by the functional decline of tissues and cell lineages, leading to loss of organ function and maintenance, impaired physiology and increased disease incidence. Proper regulation of gene expression is critical to maintain cellular phenotypes and preserve tissue homeostasis, both by protecting non dividing cells and supporting stem cell function. In this project, we will explore the deterioration of epigenetic landscapes that may cause irreversible loss of gene inducibility, focusing on aging brain cells and intestinal stem cells. We will take advantage of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as an experimental model and investigate the role of the histone variant H2Av in maintaining the activity of the transcription factors Nrf2 and Sox2. We anticipate that our studies will identify general principles that drive the aging process across organisms, including in humans.

Pilot Clinical Trial Of Fucoidan To Alleviate Frailty And Reduce Biological Age In Older Adults With Cancer Following Chemotherapy


Vera Gorbunova, PhD, Professor of Biology and Medicine
Michelle Janelsins, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery, Supportive Care in Cancer
Luke Peppone, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery, Supportive Care in Cancer
Jeremy McGuire, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Supportive Care in Cancer
Nikesha Gilmore, PhD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Supportive Care in Cancer
Melissa Loh, B.Med.Sci., M.B.B.Ch., B.A.O., M.S., Assistant Professor of Medicine
Michael Sohn, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics

Summary: Fucoidan is a sulfated polysaccharide found in brown algae. Fucoidan is available as a dietary supplement and is safe for human consumption. Recently we identified fucoidan as a strong activator of the longevity gene SIRT6. Increased levels of SIRT6 in mice and flies extend lifespan and confer multiple health benefits by promoting genome stability. Therefore, finding potent and safe SIRT6 activators has the potential to confer rejuvenating effect and extend human lifespan and healthspan. Furthermore, we showed that 2-months of fucoidan supplementation reduced frailty scores in aged mice. Given these findings, we will conduct a pilot clinical trial to preliminarily assess whether fucoidan supplementation reduces biological age and alleviates frailty symptoms in human patients recovering from chemotherapy treatments. We will also assess feasibility and acceptability of the intervention.

Increasing Wellness For Latino Older Adults With Vision Loss – Aumento Del Bienestar Para Ancianos Con Perdida De La Visión


Silvia Sörensen, PhD, Associate Professor, UR Warner School of Education and Human Development
Maria M. Quiñones-Cordero, PhD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing, URMC School of Nursing
Diana Fernandez, MD, MPH, PhD, Professor, URMC Department of Public Health Sciences
Rajeev Ramchandran, MD, Associate Professor, URMC Department of Ophthalmology

Summary: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have identified irreversible vision loss as a public health concern for older adults. Vision loss leads to difficulties with reading, driving, and engaging in social and recreational activities, contributing to high rates of social isolation and depression and poor self-care for age-related diseases, such as diabetes. The prevalence of VI and its after-effects is elevated for Latinos; social structural, health and health access factors exacerbate poor long-term health and mental health outcomes for Latinos with vision loss. Our 10-week evidence-based Resilience Building Program for older adults with vision loss can alleviate and prevent depression symptoms, but it requires cultural adaptation to Latino cultural norms. Our long-term goal is to provide more effective, community-informed intervention and care models for older Latinos; this pilot grant allows us to: Aim 1a. form a Vision Loss Subcommittee (VLS) within our larger Latino Caregivers Community Advisory Board, Aim 1b . culturally adapt the RBP in an iterative adaptation process and collaboratively with VLS members Aim 2. pilot test the adapted RBP with 10 volunteers.

The Stem Cell Niche For Clonal Dominance In Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)


Shu-Chi (Allison) Yeh, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopaedics, Center for Musculoskeletal Research
Jeevisha Bajaj, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Genetics

Summary: Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is an age-associated blood disorder that presents a high risk of leukemic transformation, as the malignant stem cells with unique mutations expand and become a dominant clone in the bone marrow. The lack of second-line treatment remains a major bottleneck to improve outcomes in MDS, suggesting an urgent need for novel therapeutic candidates to intercept disease progression. In this work, we will employ multiphoton live-animal bone marrow imaging to visualize malignant stem cells at high resolution, and study the regulatory machineries in the tumor microenvironment that supports clonal dominance, a critical trait in disease establishment and evolution to leukemia.


Wilmot Team Receives Inaugural Grant from University of Rochester Aging Institute

A Wilmot Cancer Institute team studying the relationship between aging and the functional, cognitive, and psychological status of older adults with blood cancers is the inaugural recipient of a pilot grant awarded by Wilmot and the University of Rochester Aging Institute (URAI)

The $50,000 grant went to Melissa Loh, M.B.B.Ch.Michelle Janelsins, Ph.D., and Paula Vertino, Ph.D. They come from a variety of disciplines with expertise in cancer and aging: Loh for patient-reported outcomes, Janelsins for cognitive sciences, and Vertino for epigenetics. All are active translational scientists.

Blood cancers are more prevalent in older adults, and chemotherapy can accelerate declines in mental and physical functioning. The team is looking at DNAm age, a promising biomarker, and its association with physical and mental decline as a way to identify older patients at more risk during cancer treatment. They plan to use their pilot data to submit an R03 to the National Institute of Aging.

The inaugural pilot grant showcases and formalizes the collaborative partnership between Wilmot and the URAI. Loh is an assistant professor of Medicine/Hematology Oncology; Janelsins is an associate professor of Surgery, Neuroscience and Radiation Oncology; both work with the Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC) research program at Wilmot; Vertino is the Wilmot Distinguished Professor in Cancer Genomics and a professor of Biomedical Genetics and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. She is also co-leader of Wilmot’s Genetics, Epigenetics and Metabolism (GEM) research program.