UCI Center for Healthspan Sciences: Evidence-Based Education to Improve Health

As part of the UC Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, the UCI Center for Healthspan Sciences aims to increase human longevity and improve “healthspan,” the time in people’s lives when they experience mental and physical well-being.

Founded on this novel concept and part of a relatively new field, the Center’s primary goals are to engage in evidence-based, multidisciplinary educational and research programs to help improve everyday life in a way that will inspire healthier lifestyle choices and habits. 

“Establishing the Center for Healthspan Sciences was a professional dream of mine,” said Mahtab Jafari, PharmD, the Center’s Director and a Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UCI. “I’ve been a clinician, scientist, and educator for the past 27 years in my career. The focus of my research and teaching has always been on adding ‘healthy years’ to human life and to prevent age-related chronic conditions. I also believe that as a scientist, it is my duty to serve the community by sharing evidence-based information and differentiating science from hype.”

The Center for Healthspan Sciences received a $1.3 million donation from the Kay Family Foundation in spring 2021. The funding will be used to create novel educational programs, healing protocols, and will support studies to understand how lifestyle changes can improve healthspan. Studies have shown that while the average lifespan in the U.S. is 79 years, the healthspan—the number of healthy years—is only 63 years. Jafari’s research and teaching team focuses on closing the gap between healthspan and lifespan, to extend human longevity and improve quality of life. 

Educational Programs

To inspire the next generation to adopt a healthy lifestyle, Jafari is currently teaching these concepts to her students across the UC system. Her “Life 101: Mental and Physical Self-Care” course teaches students the knowledge and skills needed to start investing in their health and to practice self-care. Due to high demand, the course is now offered at no cost on Coursera to thousands of high school and college students via UCI’s Division of Continuing Education.

“Over the past few years, we have seen great success with Life 101, as the course has grown from UCI across the UC system and beyond,” Jafari said. “The course was originally developed in response to an ongoing epidemic of stress among college students. And in recent years, with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, this course has proven to be a vital resource for students as they face new challenges. Among the most important changes that we see are students applying what they are learning to develop healthier habits—from practicing mindfulness to using exercise and meditation to combat stress.”

Jafari also teaches a “Self-Care” course to Doctor of Pharmacy students at UCI, inspiring them to not only take care of themselves but also to be ambassadors of healthspan—dispensing knowledge and science to their patients and in their communities. She believes that pharmacists can play a very important role in healthspan awareness, especially in underserved areas. This can be achieved by educating patients not only about the safe and effective uses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements, but also by teaching them about therapeutic lifestyle changes.

Community Outreach & Research

The Center for Healthspan Sciences will be continuing its educational offerings next year. The Center has hosted successful seminars on topics such as nature therapy, the importance of fascia in health, and selecting the best dietary supplements. The upcoming seminar on February 8, 2022, is titled “The Best Smart Phone Apps for Health & Wellness”.

Also in the works for 2022 is a new course titled “Healthspan Sciences” to be offered to undergraduate and graduate students at UCI during spring quarter 2022.

This year the Center for Healthspan Sciences will also initiate its interdisciplinary research program, partnering with other UCI-based research teams and scientists. The Center hopes to develop biomarkers and modalities to predict how epigenetics, the environment, and even individual characteristics affect human lifespan and healthspan.

“I am very excited for what the future holds for the Center,” Jafari said. “We will be engaging in some leading-edge research and a new way of thinking about health and healthcare. I hope our evidence-based educational programs will not only help the community understand the importance of healthy lifestyles but also give healthcare providers the tools to provide best-in-class care.”

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