Career Development Program

Pepper Center

The Research Education Component of the UCSF Pepper Center identifies, supports, and nurtures talented junior investigators who will become national leaders in aging research.

Our Programs

The Core’s mentorship and curricular programs help junior investigators progress along the pathways that lead to high impact publications and grant funding that develops the scholar’s national reputation as a leader in their area. Mentoring services, seminar series, and resource core services are also available to investigators whose goals are to develop careers in aging research. A particular focus of the Associate Scholars Program is junior faculty who have trained outside of geriatric medicine, but seek to incorporate Geriatric principles into their developing research program.

The Research Education Component also sponsors a Diversity Supplement Program to increase the number of faculty members from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds conducting aging research at UCSF.

Highlighted Research Education Component Scholars

Jennifer Lai

Jennifer Lai, MD, MBA
Associate Professor, Division of Hepatology

Project: A Pilot Randomized Trial for a Home-Based, Structured Exercise Program to Improve Physical Function in Older Liver Transplant Candidates

Dr. Lai conducted an observational study of functional status in liver transplant candidates. Support from the Pepper Center enabled her to engage in analyses evaluating the role of frailty in mortality prediction.

Since receiving funding from the Pepper Center, Dr. Lai subsequently was awarded the American Gastroenterological Association-Elsevier Pilot Award and a UCSF Department of Medicine Patient Cohort Expansion Award. She also received the American Society of Transplantation Clinical Science Career Development Award, a Poster of Distinction at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases Liver Meeting, and was selected to be an AFAR Dorothy Dillon Eweson Lecturer on the Advances in Aging Research.


Sei Lee

Sei Lee, MD, MAS
Professor, Division of Geriatrics

Project: Development and Validation of a Life Expectancy Calculator for Veterans

The inability to effectively incorporate life expectancy into clinical decision making leads to poor targeting of preventive interventions, resulting in net harm for younger patients with limited life expectancy and missed benefits for older patients with extended life expectancy.  Dr. Lee uses national VA electronic data (demographics, disease diagnoses, laboratory results and pharmacy records) to develop a 10 year Life Expectancy Calculator that can be imbedded into the VA electronic health record, and he will internally and externally validate the Calculator. This study will provide a critical advance in the prediction of life expectancy that will improve the targeting of a wide range of prevention interventions in older Veterans. Colorectal cancer screening, prostate specific antigen testing, breast cancer screening, glycemic control and blood pressure control all are associated with immediate risks and delayed benefits. The electronic, data-driven life expectancy calculator will provide the information clinicians need at the point-of-care to individualize prevention decisions and improve the targeting of prevention, maximizing benefits and minimizing harms.

Dr. Lee provides an example of how the UCSF Pepper Center supports researchers across career stages.  He was initially supported by the Resource Education Core, which provided career development support to accelerate the transition from being a junior investigator to more senior investigator by supporting the preliminary work needed to develop the his future work.  Dr. Lee is currently joint-PI with Dr. Smith on a project to develop and validate prognostic indices to predict mortality and functional decline in community-dwelling elders.  The Research and Education Core provides mentorship and assists with state of the art approaches towards prognostic model validation.  The Data and Analysis Core provides assistance with the use of functional measures in a nationally representative dataset and provides statistical support.  Dr. Lee and Smith are now using their project as a platform to provide mentorship and support to other recently funded REC scholars.

In addition to his subsequent R01 funding, Dr. Lee was also awarded a VA grant entitled:  Development and Validation of 10-Year Life Expectancy Calculators to Individualize Veterans’ Prevention Decisions.


Elena Portacolone

Elena Portacolone, PhD, MBA, MPH 
Assistant Professor, UCSF School of Nursing, Institute of Health Aging

Project: The Social Isolation of Older Americans Living in High-Crime Neighborhoods: Root Causes and Possible Solutions

Very little is known about the experience of older residents of high-crime neighborhoods. It is important to expand our knowledge on this population because older residents of high-crime neighborhoods are likely to be socially isolated and at risk for poor health outcomes. This study aimed to build knowledge of culturally-sensitive clinical interventions to

  1. improve understanding of isolated elderly
  2. identify potential strategies that would increase the quality of life of this vulnerable population.

Dr. Portacolone, a medical anthropologist, is interested in improving the health outcomes of older persons who live alone, with a particular emphasis on those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia. The Pepper Center supported her preliminary research to support a grant application focused on the health outcomes of older persons living alone with dementia. 

Following the success of this application, the Data and Analysis Core helped her with recruitment strategies, and we also advised on a successful application to the Alzheimer’s Association for additional funding.  Dr. Portacolone was awarded another grant from the National Institute of Aging entitled “Living Alone in Older Age with Cognitive Impairment.” In addition, she was awarded a New Investigator Award from the Alzheimer’s Association to better understand the experience of older adults from ethnic/racial minorities living alone with Alzheimer’s dementia and mild cognitive impairment. She was awarded a UCSF School of Nursing award along with an award from the UCSF Chancellor Fund.