New Miller School Program Focused on Leading Sleep Science Research, Training, and Community Empowerment

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Girardin Jean-Louis, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts on advancing the science and practice of sleep and circadian sciences, will direct the new Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences (TSCS) Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Girardin Jean-Louis, Ph.D., (center) with the Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences team.

The former professor of population health and psychiatry at NYU Langone Health recently received a National Institute of Aging Career Leadership Award to develop the program. He said he chose the Miller School as the program’s home for a few reasons.

“The Miller School’s groundbreaking work on the role of African ancestry and dementia is crucial to delineating the effects of poor sleep and circadian disorganization in added risks for cardiovascular disease and brain injury,” said Dr. Jean-Louis. “The Miller School also stood out for its outstanding leadership of investigators in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia research; development of novel integrative therapeutics to forestall the onset of dementia or ameliorate its symptomatology; and access to a diverse population and community health champions.”

Translational sleep and circadian sciences focus on investigating how sleep deficiencies and circadian misalignment, or a misalignment of the body’s internal clock, impact development of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and other chronic health problems. Translational sciences “translate” information learned in the laboratory to patient care in the clinic and populations in the community.

The new Miller School program will look specifically at how interventions aimed at better sleep quality can improve the health of minority populations that are disproportionately affected by problems associated with sleep.

The new focus on Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences at the Miller School is timely and representative of medicine’s future, according to Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and wellness, and the sleep sciences are vital to both,” Dr. Ford said. “Personalized, multi-dimensional and inclusive care will be the hallmark of American medicine in the not too distant future. The Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences (TSCS) Program checks all those boxes, adding an important dimension of care to not only the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences but also influencing so many other specialties.”

Barbara J. Coffey, M.D., M.S., professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences added, “We are absolutely delighted and honored that Dr. Jean-Louis has chosen to bring his innovative program to the Miller School of Medicine. This program will not only advance translational science, future clinical care and address health care disparities, but will also accelerate new collaborations among our department faculty and our colleagues in neurology, sleep medicine, pulmonology, public health sciences and other specialties.”

The Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences Program has three pillars: research, training, and community engagement and empowerment, according to Dr. Jean-Louis.

Girardin Jean-Louis, Ph.D.

“Our goals include developing and testing solution-focused interventions to reduce risks of cardiovascular and brain injury of Alzheimer’s disease type through a better understanding of the role of sleep disruption and circadian misalignment,” Dr. Jean-Louis said. “They also include training and mentoring new generations of sleep and circadian scientists, including under-represented minority investigators to attain the national mandate to achieve health equity in all U.S. communities. We will reach out to Miami-Dade County’s multicultural communities to learn from them about health issues plaguing their respective communities and assist them as they address their specific health needs.”

Dr. Jean-Louis has authored more than 375 publications focused on sleep and cardiometabolic diseases, circadian rhythm, aging and health equity. He has been involved in many National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded studies and will continue his work at the Miller School as director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) funded Program to Increase Diversity in Behavioral Medicine and Sleep Disorders Research (PRIDE) Summer Institute and the T32 Program on Translational Behavioral Cardiovascular Health Research, and as director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) funded program Congruent Mentorship to Reach Academic Diversity (COMRADE) in Neuroscience Research.

Dr. Jean-Louis also will continue to lead the NIH-funded project “Mechanisms of sleep deficiency and effects on brain injury and neurocognitive functions among older blacks,” and the NHLBI-funded R01 “Determinants of insufficient sleep among blacks and effects on disparities in health outcomes” project, looking at the cardiovascular effects of insufficient sleep among Blacks. This project leverages the success of the NYU Sleep Disparity Workgroup that Dr. Jean- Louis led and will continue at the Miller School. The workgroup has been conducting community-engaged sleep research for more than a decade.

Among the faculty members of the Working Group who are joining Dr. Jean-Louis to launch the Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences Program at the Miller School is Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., formerly an assistant professor in the departments of Population Health and Psychiatry at NYU Langone. Dr. Seixas is associate director of the new Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences Program at the Miller School.

Named one of the 100 most inspiring Black scientists in America by Cell Press, Dr. Seixas’s research focuses on multilevel determinants of sleep and cardiovascular disease disparities; long-term health consequences of cardiovascular disease disparities; and developing adaptive, group-tailored, and personalized behavior modification interventions, with the use of machine learning analytical tools, to improve health and well-being.

At the Miller School, Dr. Seixas will continue his work on the NHLBI-funded Determinants of Insufficient Sleep in Rural–Urban Settings (DORMIR) Study, in which he is studying multilevel determinants of insufficient sleep and insufficient sleep related cardiovascular disease among Hispanics.

Judite Blanc, Ph.D., also a part of the Working Group and NIH-T32 Postdoctoral Fellow under Dr. Jean-Louis, is moving from her post as adjunct faculty in applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt to her role as a faculty member of the Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences Program.

“I can say I am a living example of this pipeline of researchers that Dr. Jean-Louis has built and is continuing to build,” Dr. Blanc said. “I am a young, Haitian-born psychologist. My goal and dream are to be able to use my research and advanced knowledge about the impact of insufficient sleep and chronic stress on racial, ethnic, or disenfranchised communities. Now, I have a platform with which to reach that goal.”

Arlener D. Turner, Ph.D., formerly a research assistant professor at NYU Langone Health, Department of Psychiatry, Center for Sleep and Brain Health, also has joined the Miller School as faculty. Crystal Vidal, M.B.A., is the research laboratory director and will run program operations. Other members of the program include graduate assistants Caroline Dodson and Clarence Earl Locklear, Kaitlin Hahn, research associate, and Tocarra Ware, administrative assistant.