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Through a third round of NIA funding, UNC’s Medical Students Training in Aging Research (MSTAR) program will continue as a National Training Center from 2020 through 2025.

UNC Center for Aging and Health will be funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to continue as a National Training Center for the MSTAR program to train medical students in aging research. Through a $526,825 T-35 grant (“UNC-CH Summer Research Training in Aging for Medical Students – MSTAR”) UNC’s MSTAR program has trained 111 medical students in aging research since 2010. This year’s award represents the third round of funding for the program.

Older adults are often excluded from research. MSTAR is an important pipeline training program where medical students learn how to conduct research that includes older adults and how to evaluate medical research with a lens on who is included and who is left out.

Medical students from across the U.S. and territories apply to participate in an 8- to 10-week program for structured research in basic, translational, clinical, or health services research. MSTAR scholars have come to Chapel Hill in past years from as far away as Hawaii, California, and Puerto Rico. UNC’s 2020 summer research program was conducted remotely due to the coronavirus.

Division of Geriatric Medicine Chief and Center for Aging and Health Director Jan Busby-Whitehead, MD, is the Program Director, with Philip Sloane, MD, MPH, Co-Director of the Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care, Cecil B. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, and Richard Loeser, MD, Director of the Thurston Arthritis Research Center, as Co-Program Directors. Ellen Roberts, MD, MPH, Associate Professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine, is Associate Program Director.

“Our outstanding pool of research mentors in the School of Medicine and other Health Affairs Schools is a major reason for the MSTAR program’s success,” said Busby-Whitehead. Over 60 faculty representing 35 medical specialties from five Health Science Schools serve as volunteer student mentors.

“This training makes an impact no matter what field or discipline the research scholars go into,” said Associate Program Director Dr. Ellen Roberts. “MSTAR teaches medical students how important it is to take note of the participant population in the research pool and makes them aware of better care in general for older adults, who will almost certainly be their patients in the future.”

Many scholars collaborate with program mentors after the summer to achieve publications in medical journals. Kayla Darris, a 2019 UNC MSTAR scholar from the University of Arizona College of Medicine at Tucson, and Brian Diekman, PhD, Assistant Professor in the UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and member of the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center, received the American Geriatrics Society’s 2020 Best Abstract Award and presented their research at two national medical conferences.

For information on becoming an MSTAR research mentor or scholar, please contact Kristen Ruck, grant and program manager, at