Donaghue Investigators: An Update

Donaghue Investigators

The Donaghue Investigator program provided over $16 million to 27 medical researchers holding faculty appointments at onnecticut institutions between 1998 and 2012. Goals of the program included supporting the overall work of the researcher rather than a single research project, funding research in a broad array of medical research fields, and putting the potential for practical benefit to improve health high on the list of priorities for selecting awardees. This is the second of a four-part series to revisit the Donaghue Investigator program. We asked each of our grantees to share with us some highlights from their current work, and here is what six of them had to say. Six other Donaghue Investigators were featured in the previous Practically Speaking, and we’ll feature others in the next two issues.


Sharon K. Inouye, MD, MPH
Director, Aging Brain Center
Milton and Shirley F. Levy Family Chair
Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

“Delirium and functional decline in hospitalized older persons”

Improving health outcomes of older persons who are hospitalized

The Donaghue Investigator Award truly helped to facilitate my career development! My research interests include delirium, functional decline, and improving hospital care for elders. The work that I’ve done during the time of the Donaghue Investigator award and since has allowed me to develop research that has been instrumental to defining the field of delirium and has advanced the understanding of diagnosis, risk factors, prognosis, and interventions for delirium. In addition, I developed the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM), the most widely used method for delirium identification, which has been translated into more than 20 languages. The Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP), an innovative model for prevention of delirium and falls, has been disseminated to over 200 hospitals worldwide. Currently, I am directing the Successful AGing after Elective Surgery (SAGES) study, a Program Project from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), exploring the long-term outcomes of delirium, and a National Institute for Aging R24 grant to build a national network to foster delirium research.


Sandra J. Hewett, PhD
Beverly Petterson Bishop Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Biology
Executive Director of Neuroscience Studies
Syracuse University

“Mechanisms of inflammatory central nervous system injury”

Identification of therapeutic targets amenable to drug treatment to prevent damage caused by acute and chronic neurological disease

My laboratory is interested in understanding the molecular and biochemical mechanisms controlling the process of neuroinflammation. My team and I are concentrating on how inflammatory factors regulate neuron-astrocyte interactions to either facilitate neural injury or mediate repair. A truly unique and exciting finding of ours concerns the bimodal actions of IL- 1β. Intriguingly, it can either contribute to or protect from neural injury via the same mechanism: the upregulation of the system xc- antiporter on astrocytes. Using a combination of approaches – from cell culture to mouse models – we are now testing possible therapeutic strategies aimed at astrocyte system xc- as part of an applied research strategy. This dual dedication to basic science and applications drives my work, which asks and answers questions at the basic science level that can inform human health. Currently funded by the National Institutes of Health, the seminal discoveries were made with the support from the Donaghue Foundation.


Richard Marottoli, MD
Professor of Medicine
Yale School of Medicine

“Enhancing Older Drive Safety and Mobility”

Improving the identification of driver risk factors in older people, developing interventions to increase safety, and improving quality of life when driving needs to be reduced

The Donaghue Investigator Award provided an ideal opportunity to delve into my chosen topic in great depth and to collect a richness of data that would not have been possible without it. This allowed us to answer our primary questions, but also to expand to new areas that had not been explored in detail before. In subsequent years, I turned my attention to policy implications of this work, with the help of a Health and Aging Policy Fellowship (HAPF), working at the US DOT in Washington, DC. I have remained involved at the state level, as a longstanding member (and now chairperson) of the CT DMV Medical Advisory Board. I have also segued to broader transportation issues and different aspects of the population, including the effects of gender and race/ethnicity on transportation options and choices. From a research, clinical, and education perspective, I have expanded my involvement in dementia-related issues. I have been a member of the Connecticut Alzheimer’s Association Medical Scientific Advisory Council for many years. For the last several years, I have been leader of the Outreach, Recruitment, and Education Core of the Yale Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and medical director of the Adler Geriatric Assessment Center. In all these endeavors, the emphasis of the Donaghue Foundation Investigator Award on “practical benefit” has continued to ring true and inform my pursuit of these varied activities.


Francisco A. Sylvester, MD
UNC School of Medicine
Chief, Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology
Professor of Pediatrics
North Carolina Children’s Hospital

“Understanding bone loss in children with chronic gastrointestinal diseases”

Discovering ways to promote bone health in children with chronic diseases.

The Donaghue Investigator award was instrumental in affording me the opportunity to develop a bone health program in children with gastrointestinal diseases that began at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and then projected nationally. This program had both a clinical and a research component. As a result, evaluation of bone health is now part of the comprehensive assessment of children with inflammatory bowel diseases in the United States and abroad. We also reported seminal observations on the mechanisms by which intestinal inflammation influence bone formation. We obtained an RO1 grant from the NIH with preliminary data obtained in part with Donaghue Investigator support. We currently are examining the effects of the intestinal microbiota from children with Crohn disease on bone using a novel experimental animal model. I am very thankful to the Donaghue Foundation for their sponsorship and to Dr. Ernesto Canalis for his mentoring over the years.


Hal Blumenfeld, MD, PhD
Mark Loughridge and Michele Williams Professor of Neurology and Professor of Neuroscience and of
Yale School of Medicine

“Impaired Consciousness in Epilepsy: Mechanisms and Consequences”

Investigate the mechanism of impaired driving for people with epilepsy with the goal of identifying potential preventive measures

We have studied brain networks in different kinds of seizures as well as normal brain function. Important innovations in our research include using virtual-reality driving simulation to evaluate driving safety in patients with epilepsy. This research has grown directly out of the project originally funded by the Donaghue Foundation and has continued as a major focus of our laboratory. The behavioral testing methods we have developed along with cutting-edge brain imaging and electrical recordings are aimed at providing better information to patients and physicians making decisions about driving, and may help identify brain areas crucial for impaired awareness in epilepsy.


Jennifer Prah Ruger, PhD
Amartya Sen Professor of Health Equity, Economics and Policy
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

“Ethics and Economics of Healthcare Disparities”

Producing and synthesizing scientific evidence on the ethical and economic implications of different approaches to reducing disparities in healthcare

Our lab takes a mixed methods approach and focuses on theoretical and empirical studies of health equity with a concentration on impoverished populations worldwide, especially women and children. My Donaghue Investigator Award, Ethics and Economics of Healthcare Disparities, was very influential in advancing our approach. Our theoretical work reexamines the principles and values that underlie health policy and public health, creating the health capability paradigm and the provincial globalism and shared health governance frameworks. Our lab has developed an empirical approach, based on both quantitative and qualitative research methods, to evaluate public health programs and health policies as they relate to our theoretical frameworks. We employ randomized controlled trials, observational and survey designs, large-scale analyses of national and international datasets, focus group and interview based data and systematic reviews. Our empirical studies examine health policy and public health problems such as the equity and efficiency of health system access, financing, resource allocation, policy reform, governance, and the social determinants of health. Our work expands into the global realm and our research has been conducted in Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Malaysia, Morocco, South Korea, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam.


Donaghue Foundation Annual Report

Click Here to view this years Annual Report and the initial issue of the Donaghue Journal