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New OMNI Professor Focuses on How Brain, Cells Change as We Age

(ATHENS, Ohio – May 30, 2012) For S. Lee Hong, Ph.D., research is a chance to address one question we all will face: How do you stay healthy and independent as long as possible, despite age and chronic disease?

Aging and neurological changes over long spans of time form the core of his work. He studies both humans and animals, collecting large sets of data that he crunches, searching for patterns in how our cells change and die over a lifetime. His recent work includes research on the risk of falling as we age and how movement impacts chronic conditions such as mental illness.

“It’s one of those problems that everybody goes through, that none of us escape,” Dr. Hong said. “A lot of it is figuring out how we can keep people healthy and independent for a longer period of time. Really that’s the priority.”

Dr. Hong will join the Ohio Musculoskeletal & Neurological Institute (OMNI) at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM) on July 1. He’ll serve as an associate professor of physiology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, but his main focus will be continuing his research and complementing the work of OMNI’s six principal investigators.

Dr. Hong isn’t a typical new hire, said Brian Clark, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and director of OMNI. Thanks to the historic $105 million gift from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation that the medical school received in April 2011, Dr. Clark and the OMNI faculty were able to focus on a strategic hire who could complement existing research strengths, rather than simply hiring someone to fulfill departmental teaching requirements, Clark said.

Dr. Hong’s ability to do advanced mathematical analysis of complex data, and his research focus on the areas of brain and behavior, fit well within OMNI’s core group of scientists, Dr. Clark said.

 “Lee brings in a great skill set of expertise,” Dr. Clark said. “He’s an outside the box thinker. He’s had demonstrated success at securing federal funding to support research and demonstrated scholarly activity and achievements.”

The $26.5 million earmarked for OMNI from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations gift will help fund a new 40,000 square foot facility and support OMNI research. OMNI’s goal is to bring together physicians, engineers, neuroscientists, physiologists, psychologists, and allied health researchers to study a range of problems and disorders related to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.

Dr. Hong is the first researcher to join OMNI as part of this growth initiative, with two more faculty hires planned in 2018.

Dr. Clark says Dr. Hong’s work relates to three of OMNI’s five primary research areas:

  • Low back pain and chronic pain disorders
  • Sarcopenia and dynapenia
  • Exercise physiology and rehabilitation medicine

Hong’s holds a Ph.D. In Kinesiology with a concentration in motor control from Pennsylvania State University. He’s applied his work with aging and movement to an impressive list of research. Some of his publications and presentations, including co-authored articles, have appeared in significant journals including:

  • “Postural control in bipolar disorder: Increased sway area and decreased dynamical complexity” and “Noise and complexity in human postural control: Interpreting the different estimations of entropy,” both published in PLoS One.
  • “Paced finger tapping abnormalities in bipolar disorder indicate timing dysfunction,” which appeared in Bipolar Disorders.
  • “Upper frequency limits of bilateral coordination patterns,” and “Coupling and irregularity in the aging motor system: Tremor and movement,” both published in Neuroscience Letters.
  • “Similarity in the dynamics of contralateral motor overflow through increasing frequency of movement in a single limb” and “Practice effects on local and global dynamics of the ski-simulator task,” which appeared in Experimental Brain Research.

He’s also the principal investigator on two grant programs:

  • A grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin to study the neuromechanics of fall-risk in aging.
  • A grant from the National Institute on Aging to examine the role of motor variability in attenuating the effects of aging through environmental enrichment in mice.

Dr. Hong will remain the principal investigator on the animal models of aging, continuing his work at Ohio University; however, he will step down to co-investigator on the other project. This fall, he’ll serve as co-investigator on a federally funded study on the use of video games for physical activity.

Part of what drew Dr. Hong to OMNI is the way faculty members work together, building on each other’s work. He’s particularly excited about OMNI’s research on the brain and movement, and the ability to work with Ohio University’s Edison BioTechnology Institute’s physiology work.

“It’s a new opportunity to be in a very focused group of faculty who are very interested in similar things but who have very different skill sets than I do,” Dr. Hong said. “I bring something new and everybody there brings something new to me.”

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Last updated: 01/28/2016