ASU aging center celebrates 4th anniversary, looks ahead

February 27, 2023

Communities across Arizona, the nation and the world all face both similar challenges and unique opportunities regarding aging populations. Around 2030, there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 18 in the U.S., a historical first.

“We’re living longer. There is a whole third of life that many people may experience after retirement and we need to find ways to maximize that quality of life for them and their families so they can enjoy it for as long as possible,” said David W. Coon, director of Arizona State University's Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging Overhead view of a group of people mingling in the lobby below at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation The Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging recently celebrated its fourth anniversary with researchers and community members. Photo by Brandon Nazari Download Full Image

Researchers in the center, as it’s known, are doing exactly that — and recently they celebrated how far they’ve come since its launch in 2019 with an event hosted at ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, where Coon is also the associate dean for research and a professor.

“We’re quite new, and a lot of our activities happened during COVID, but we still managed to grow from just a small number of us who are really focused on doing research in aging to over 15 active researchers in aging conducting all types of dynamic work,” Coon said.

Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer kicked off the event, welcoming attendees who joined both in person and online. She emphasized the critical need for this research and applauded all those involved with the center.

“The faculty and students' work in CIHRA is nothing short of remarkable, and this is really only the beginning. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without our wonderful partners and the community who have embraced these efforts by sharing best practices and volunteering for studies and the leadership of center Director David Coon,” said Karshmer.

Several current faculty funded by the National Institute on Aging explore resilience factors associated with cognitive aging among Black midlife and older adults, the role of the environment on cognitive aging among Mexican American and Mexican older adults, and the role of exercise as well as care values in enhancing the quality of life for people in the early stages of cognitive decline. A cooperative agreement with the National Endowment for the Arts brings together community partners and faculty to investigate the impact of the arts on family caregiving populations.

David Coon stands at a microphone in front of a powerpoint presentation. He's wearing a dark suit jacket and glasses.

Center Director David Coon speaks to the audience about the ongoing projects happening at the center during the anniversary celebration. Photo by Brandon Nazari

The center's faculty also just published an article in the Journal of Aging and Environment in partnership with Lindsey Beagley, director of Lifelong University Engagement, about partnering with residents living in Mirabella at ASU.

“These aging experts and scholars have a really valuable role for us as we start to unpack what it means to get older. What does an 80-year-old look like now that we’re living to be 100 years old? That’s why CIHRA is really on the forefront of this, because they’re the ones investigating what the future looks like for the life span,” Beagley said.

The center's faculty and its community partners are doing it from an interdisciplinary, interprofessional perspective, pulling together researchers of all different backgrounds to examine various aspects of aging — from promoting emotional well-being and quality of life among a variety of populations and actively engaging underserved communities to also addressing the needs of family caregivers of older adults that are often experiencing stress and distress.

The center is leveraging the full research capabilities of ASU toward this unprecedented challenge and opportunity. 

So what’s next? Coon says they have a rare opportunity to address a key area that is missing from the literature by tying interventions across multiple levels.

“Many people work with individuals, or they work with a couple or a family; some people work with communities or a health system while others work in policymaking. So how do we take our best learnings from all of those different levels and maximize success by weaving those together for greater impact and better outcomes? That is an important direction we’re moving toward.”

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


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Deciphering the mysterious relationship between coral and algae

February 27, 2023

New ASU lab to grow corals, shed light on underpinnings of coral bleaching

Across the world, once beautifully vibrant corals are turning ghostly white. 

In 2022, the Great Barrier Reef — the largest reef system in the world — was hit by its sixth mass bleaching event, severely bleaching 60% of the corals along hundreds of miles off the Australian coast. 

Over the last decade, as sea surface temperatures continue to rise, triggering physiological stress in corals, bleaching events have increased in frequency and intensity. Scientists are urgently working to find solutions to save this vulnerable resource, which is critical for preserving marine biodiversity, protecting coastlines and providing food for millions of people. 

Liza Roger, assistant professor in Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences and an affiliate faculty in ASU’s School of Ocean Futures, is leading research to better understand coral bleaching and the phenomenon’s effect on the symbiotic relationship between coral and algae.

“With coral (research), one of the major things at the moment is their sensitivity to temperature,” said Roger, a marine scientist and geochemist. “We need to understand the dynamics of oxidative stressOxidative stress is part of the physiological stress response on corals better. We need to better understand the symbiosis with the algae that lives in their tissue.” 

Liza Roger

Coral and algae: A perfect match 

Corals and algae live in a mutually beneficial relationship with each other. Healthy corals are home to algae that photosynthesize, giving the coral energy and their bright color hues, while coral provide algae with shelter; both rely on each other for important nutrient exchanges for survival.

But as seawater temperatures rise, corals are hit with an onslaught of oxidative stress, causing algae to be expelled from coral tissue, leaving it transparent, showing the white underlying skeleton. 

It’s clear that the coral-algae symbiosis breaks down under these stressed conditions, but critical questions remain: How and why do these partners part ways, and who — the coral or algae — initiates the breakup? 

“We don’t know whether it's the host coral, or whether it's the algae partner, or whether it's both,” Roger said. “Is one poisoning the other? Are they poisoning each other? Is it just a mutual understanding that they've had enough of each other? You go your way, I go my way. We haven't figured that out yet.”

Roger is creating a new research lab at ASU that aims to bring together an interdisciplinary team of marine biologists, computer scientists, physicists and chemical engineers to better understand oxidative stress on corals and formulate conservation solutions. The one-of-a-kind lab will grow corals, in vitro and in vivo, and other marine organisms.

We’re trying to look at how they are handling this stress and understand it at the molecular level,” Roger said.

Hidden clues from other marine life 

Some clues about the breakdown of coral-algae symbiosis may already exist in other marine species. 

The upside down jellyfish Cassiopea, sea anemones and giant clams all have similar types of symbiotic relationships with algae as coral do, yet have different temperature thresholds.

Cassiopea live in tropical mangroves under warmer sea temperatures with low seawater flow and lower oxygen; sea anemones live in rocky pools with varying tides and drastic temperature and oxygen level fluctuations; and giant clams can live right beside a coral under the same stressful conditions, yet each in their own unique way manage to keep its symbiosis with algae. 

“These organisms are doing something that the coral is not managing to do,” Roger said. “So the idea is to look at those organisms and learn how they do it. Is it a pathway? Is it an enzyme? What is it? How can they do it? Then we can package that to give it to coral.”

For Roger, her work today examining oxidative stress on corals is the product of a lifelong fascination with the ocean and the organisms that live within it. 

“I knew how to pick up a crab without getting nipped before I knew how to tie my shoelaces,” said Roger, who grew up along the coastline of Normandy, France, playing in shallow rock pools at low tide with her family. 

From producing academic work in marine biology, coastal management and geochemistry, to a stint educating tourists on whale species and migration as a guide in Iceland, to introducing people to the vast life and world beneath the waves in Greece and Thailand as a scuba diving instructor, Roger’s affinity for the ocean only continued to grow with time.  

Today, Roger stays focused on the ocean and is driven to save the underwater spaces and its breath of biodiversity in which she is so intimately tied.  

“This is not just about spoiling your tourist destination. It's about the whole ocean and the whole ecosystem,” she said. “I always try to be very solution-oriented. I think that's something I've always had; finding the right type of problem is always the thing. This is a big deal.”

Roger is currently recruiting graduate students and postdocs for her new marine biochem research lab. To learn more, contact her at

Top photo: Coral colony on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Courtesy Liza Roger

David Rozul

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications