By Terrence Casey
Two Penn Memory Center scholars — Shana Stites, PsyD, and Karolina Lempert, PhD — were recently awarded grants that will advance “not only their careers but as well the field of Alzheimer’s disease research,” PMC leadership said.
Dr. Stites was awarded an Alzheimer’s Association Research Fellowship program grant. This grant supports “exceptional researchers” early in their careers “with the goal of bridging the fellow to faculty positions of researchers,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The two-and-a-half-year grant will support Dr. Stites’ work as senior research investigator for the Penn Project on Precision Medicine for the Brain (P3MB), led by Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center.
The goal of her project, The Study of the Psychosocial Effects of Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease, is to understand how diagnosing clinically normal persons with Alzheimer’s disease by using genes and biomarkers will affect the public’s views toward persons with the disease and the patient’s experience. The results will help reduce stigma of Alzheimer’s disease. Her goal is to safely move advances in diagnostics and treatment from research into routine clinical practice.
“Shana’s research is really quite important,” said Dr. Karlawish. “Alzheimer’s disease is undergoing a revolution. Someday, you won’t have to be demented or even mildly cognitively impaired, to receive the label. This strategy of early diagnosis and treatment holds great promise to fulfill the public health goal of reducing the burden of disability, but it also presents us substantial challenges. Patients still in the workplace and world will need to live well with a disease that is a direct assault on their self-determination and dignity.
“[Penn Memory Center Co-Director] David Wolk and I are thrilled with the support Shana’s research has received. Her results will inform clinicians, patients, employers, and advocacy groups.”
Dr. Lempert, a Penn Memory Center postdoctoral scholar, was recently awarded the Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award by the National Institute on Aging. This fellowship will allow her to gain expertise in the neuroscience of aging and Alzheimer’s disease to increase the clinical relevance of her research.
Dr. Lempert has been working on studies looking at how changes in episodic memory with aging might lead to changes in economic decision-making. In her doctoral work, she studied the role of emotion and episodic memory in economic decisions in young adults. At the Penn Memory Center, she is extending her cognitive neuroscience research on decision-making to an older adult population.
“Dr. Lempert’s grant will build upon her already impressive accomplishments in studying decision-making in her doctoral training,” said Dr. Wolk. “Expanding this work to older adults is likely to yield an enhanced understanding of how economic decisions are affected by both normal and pathological aging and the underlying brain networks supporting these cognitive processes.”
The Penn Memory Center scholars program was founded in 2016 to support researchers, fellows, postdoctoral researchers, and junior faculty whose career goals include cognitive health in aging.
Dr. Stites earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from Chestnut Hill College and an MA in sociology from Lehigh University. She completed her clinical internship at Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. Her clinical concentration was in neuropsychology with special interests in multicultural competency and applied research.
Dr. Lempert received her bachelor’s degree in neurobiology at Harvard and her Ph.D. in psychology at NYU.