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Prisma and Clemson expand colab

Clemson University and Prisma Health celebrate the expansion of their research and clinical collaborations with the opening of new space to accommodate the expanding community research and clinical programs of the Clemson University Institute for Engaged Aging. The institute now occupies the top floor of the Prisma Health Oconee Memorial Hospital in Seneca, South Carolina.

Leadership from both organizations, researchers, faculty and staff launched the institute in its new comprehensive center specializing in aging, cognition research and outreach.

According to Clemson University President Jim Clements, the partnership between the University and Prisma Health in aging research has already yielded important outcomes. He sees a dedicated space for this work as necessary to increase the positive impact on citizens in South Carolina and beyond.

“Aging, and the challenges that may accompany it, can affect us all, and is something many loved ones and caregivers face every day,” Clements said. “That makes the work being done by Clemson University and Prisma Health timely and vital considering the ever-increasing proportion of older adults across our state and nation.”

The Institute for Engaged Aging is a program of the Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences’ Department of Psychology. It was created to discover, develop and disseminate best practices for engaged aging through research, education and community outreach. Current institute initiatives focus on the brain, mobility and technologies that enable older adults to be engaged in family and community living regardless of their social, economic or health status.

As part of the expanded collaboration, Clemson University and Prisma Health are partnering to explore a new advanced 3T MRI unit to be housed at Oconee Memorial Hospital for research as well as patient diagnostics. 3T technology differs from standard MRI units (1.5 T) in that it allows more refined imaging detail, particularly related to changes in the brain, and is a critical tool for research related to aging. A Certificate of Need application for the MRI was filed with the state on Feb. 18, 2022 and is currently under review.

Both institutions are working to improve access to MRI technology for researchers, patients and health care providers. Providing this technology at Prisma Health Oconee Memorial Hospital ensures patients who live in Oconee County will no longer have to travel outside of their service area for imaging studies that require the 3T magnet.

“The challenges inherent to research and patient care related to aging and cognition are varied and multidisciplinary,” said Mark S. O’Halla, president and chief executive officer of Prisma Health. “Our partnership and the physical space afforded to the institute not only embed it within a healthcare organization, but also create a hub where faculty, staff and researchers can come together to provide important services accessible to community members close to where they live.”

The official opening celebration is an important milestone in the completion of the institute’s new home, and researchers spanning multiple Clemson University colleges and departments have been actively working in sections of the Oconee space for months.

A large portion of this work has been dedicated to Clemson’s part in a multi-university research project funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. Clemson was chosen as one of six sites across the U.S. to conduct this study, which is the largest primary prevention trial to date designed to test the effectiveness of computer-based training to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

The Clemson University portion of the grant, $3.5 million, was awarded to Lesley Ross, Ph.D., SmartLIFE Endowed Chair in Aging and Cognition in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences; director of the Clemson University Institute for Engaged Aging; and associate professor in the University’s Department of Psychology. Ross is leading the Clemson-PACT Study with Christine Phillips, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, serving as co-investigator, who is leading participant recruitment and retention efforts across sites.

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