The AASM Foundation launched a new program in 2020, the Sleep Research Program for Advancing Careers (SOAR), aimed at increasing the number of early-career investigators who successfully apply for external sleep research funding.

The goal of the SOAR is to launch the research careers of sleep and circadian investigators. By the end of this innovative 10-month program, early-career investigators will have the skills, resources and confidence needed to successfully apply for their first career development grant.

Five SOAR Fellows were selected through a competitive application process and matched with renowned sleep researchers to serve as mentors for the program. The SOAR Fellows and Mentors will work together on developing a competitive career development grant application to a federal funding agency. Concurrently, SOAR Fellows will participate in monthly webinars on grantsmanship, use discretionary funds for research training activities, attend an exclusive mid-year grant writing retreat and attend the annual SLEEP meeting to present an abstract.

Congratulations to the inaugural 2020-2021 SOAR Fellows

Mihaela Bazalakova, MD, PhD
University of Wisconsin, Madison

SOAR Mentor: Louise O’Brien, PhD, MS
Dr. Bazalakova is a board-certified sleep neurologist, who completed her MD-PhD training at Vanderbilt University, Neurology residency at Mass General Brigham, and Sleep fellowship at the BIDMC, Boston. As faculty at the University of Wisconsin Madison, she is dedicated to expanding the understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and the corresponding diverse phenotypes that may render individual patients susceptible to specific downstream consequences of OSA. She aims to elucidate a biomarker for OSA that can lead to predictive, personalized sleep medicine care. Specifically, Dr. Bazalakova is committed to the study of OSA in pregnancy, given that women are especially affected by the current limited AHI/REI desaturation-based metrics of OSA, with the goal of improving pregnancy outcomes and population health.

Omonigho Michael Bubu MD, MPH, PhD
NYU Grossman School of Medicine

SOAR Mentor: Brendan Lucey, MD, MSCI
Dr. Bubu is an Assistant Professor and physician scientist at NYU Grossman School of Medicine (NYUSoM), in the Departments of Psychiatry and Population Health, with a programmatic research focus on sleep, aging and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in blacks. He has graduate, internship, and fellowship-level clinical and research training in neurology, neuro-epidemiology and public health. He was recently supported as a postdoctoral fellow at NYUSoM under a T32 funding mechanism, and awarded an NIA funded Columbia Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Alzheimer’s disease Disparities Pilot (CIRAD; P30 AG059303) grant to conduct original research on the interaction of obstructive sleep apnea and race on plasma tau, and neurofilament light protein. Dr. Bubu plans to apply for a NIH career development award to train in sleep/circadian neurobiology and physiology, and conduct research examining how micro-and-macro architectural sleep changes and vascular risk impact AD risk in blacks to significantly improve understanding of AD disparities drivers.

Lu Dong, PhD, MHS
RAND Corporation

SOAR Mentor: Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR
Dr. Dong is a behavioral scientist at RAND Corporation. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Emory University and a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins. During her postdoctoral training, she worked with Dr. Allison Harvey at UC Berkeley, examining a transdiagnostic sleep and circadian intervention in adolescents and adults with psychiatric problems. Dr. Dong has also led a study deriving a parent intervention to promote adolescent sleep-related behavior change. Since joining RAND, her research has focused on sleep disparities research, working closely with Dr. Wendy Troxel examining sleep in underserved racial/ethnic minority populations, including urban Native youth and African American residents from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Dr. Dong currently serves as a co-investigator on several NIH-funded sleep studies. Her research goal is to investigate the role of sleep in health disparities and develop culturally congruent and scalable interventions to improve sleep health in diverse and underserved populations.

Sonya S. Kaur, PhD
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

SOAR Mentor: Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD
Dr. Kaur currently serves as an Instructor in the Division of Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist with prior research training in the neural consequences of metabolic syndrome. Additionally, she is an alumni of the Young Investigator’s Research Forum, and has an active research interest in examining the efficacy of sleep interventions on cognitive and neurobiological correlates of mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Jack S. Peltz, PhD
Daemen College

Mentor: Safwan Badr, MD, MBA
Dr. Peltz holds a master’s in child development from Tufts University and a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Rochester. Supported by funding from the National Sleep Foundation and the Society for Research in Child Development, his current research focuses on the intersection of sleep and mental health problems in youths within a family context. Additional research interests include examining the effects of school start times on adolescents and understanding the precursors and consequences of college students’ sleep problems. Dr. Peltz is also currently developing an assessment tool to measure children’s sleep environments. As a licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Peltz plans to integrate his training in developmental psychopathology and behavioral sleep medicine to support youths and their families through sleep-focused interventions, with a specific interest in supporting disadvantaged populations and their sleep health.

Thank you to the AASM Foundation Research Fellowship Committee for their support in developing, planning, and launching the SOAR.

Alberto Ramos, MD, MSPH (Chair)
Neomi Shah, MD, MPH (Vice Chair)
Elaine Boland, PhD
Jason Ong, PhD
Logan Schneider, MD
Azizi Seixas, PhD
Katherine Sharkey, MD, PhD
Lynn Marie Trotti, MD, MSc