Skip to main content
2018 MSTAR Student Charmara Dharmasri with UNC MSTAR Program Director Dr. Ellen Roberts
2018 MSTAR Student Charmara Dharmasri with UNC MSTAR Associate Program Director Dr. Ellen Roberts

For 25 years, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has sponsored the MSTAR program for Medical Students Training in Aging Research. The MSTAR program seeks to build research skills among medical students and encourage them to consider involvement in future research that contributes to improving the care of older adults.

Older adults have been routinely excluded from the research that informs treatment and develops medications used by the nation’s aging population. Nearly 70 percent of all NIH-funded clinical trials have average patient ages younger than the actual averages for the diseases being studied.

UNC Trains Researchers

UNC Chapel Hill has been an MSTAR Training Center since 2010 and is one of only 7 national MSTAR sites. Through a T35 grant from the NIA, UNC MSTAR has trained 107 pre-doctoral medical students from across the United States and territories. Division of Geriatric Medicine Chief Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead is the Program Director, with Dr. Philip Sloane (Family Medicine) and Dr. Richard Loeser (Thurston Arthritis Research Center) as Co-Program Directors, and Dr. Ellen Roberts as Associate Program Director. The weekly work of running MSTAR, including managing mentor-mentee workflow and setting up clinical experiences, is handled by Program Coordinator Kristen Ruck.

MSTAR students apply for the summer program in January of the same year and are matched by their greatest medical interest with faculty mentors from across the UNC-CH medical and health sciences campus. Beginning in June, MSTAR students participate in an 8- to 10-week program for structured research in basic, translational, clinical, or health services research. MSTAR also offer various clinical experiences and a weekly didactic program in research and aging. Mentors currently include 12 faculty members from Rheumatology / Immunology, Pulmonology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Family Medicine, Hematology / Oncology, and more.

2019 MSTAR Student Punita Peketi and Mentor Sheryl Zimmerman at the program's kickoff dinner in June
2019 MSTAR Student Punita Peketi and Mentor Dr. Sheryl Zimmerman at the program’s kickoff dinner in June

Students also submit an abstract to present a poster at the American Geriatrics Society’s (AGS) annual National Scientific meeting. At this year’s May AGS scientific meeting in Portland Oregon, UNC’s MSTAR roster included 9 students who presented posters on diverse topics such as delirium research, food insecurity screening through the ED, weight change among colon cancer patients, and more. Students have also presented at other national conferences for Cardiology, Emergency Medicine, Neurology, Rheumatology, and more.

How to Apply

Students interested in applying for next year’s MSTAR summer session can target any research that includes older adults or basic science research that would impact areas of medicine. Applications are due in January of each year. The program includes mentors from every area of medicine and assists in facilitating mentor matches. All mentors with funded qualifying research are matched to students with corresponding interests.

For more information on how to participate as a student or mentor, please contact