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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Florida International Researcher Wins ‘New Investigator Award’

The American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP) honored Florida International University researcher, Dr. Shanna Burke, with the New Investigator Award for her exploration of “Cognitive and Functional Performance and Measures of Neurodegeneration in Hispanic and White non-Hispanic Older Adults” in Miami-Dade County, a region known for its majority Hispanic population.


[Photo: Dr. Shanna Burke]

Dr. Burke, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, tackled the complexity of relying on traditional and culture-fair cognitive testing methods, while simultaneously highlighting the health disparities and ethnic differences in assessment and diagnosis of amnestic mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

In collaboration with Mount Sinai Medical Center, University of Miami, Albizu University and Florida Atlantic University, she analyzed cognitive and functional performance measures to characterize the stage of impairment. Then, the team used regional brain volumes as independent biomarkers of underlying neurodegenerative disease.

Their work revealed that despite demographic similarity, depression measures, and cognitive performance, there was less neurodegeneration among Hispanics. This suggests that unmeasured cultural and language factors may have influenced the tests and that future studies are needed to investigate whether cultural differences in test-taking approaches, effort, motivation, language, immigration or simply growing up in another country influences testing outcomes. It could also point to a higher base rate of underlying neurodegenerative diseases among white non-Hispanics.

Since arriving at FIU’s Stempel College in 2015, Dr. Burke’s myriad contributions include nine first-authored publications in scientific peer-reviewed journals and funding for six studies.

With support from the Neuroscience Centers of Florida Foundation, Inc. and the Florida Department of Health, one study will lead to the development of a sensitive and robust neuropsychological battery to test non-Hispanic and Hispanic participants for evidence of neurodegeneration. This will ultimately enhance and apply a diagnostic algorithm to the records obtained from observations of more than 33,000 people in the U.S.

In this case, diagnostic classification using an algorithm will allow researchers and physicians across the country to more precisely define and delineate risk factors associated with mild cognitive impairment and/or probable Alzheimer’s disease.