Focus Area: Development, aging and repair

In order to prevent and repair dysfunction due to developmental disorders, aging, and injury, it is critical to understand the fundamental processes of healthy development and how they change across the lifespan. This focus area is thus multidisciplinary, ranging from cellular and molecular processes involved in human development and aging, to the social and behavioral aspects of developmental disorders and age-related conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Students will have an interest in understanding and addressing the diseases and disabilities associated with development, injury, and aging. They will develop a strong understanding of critical genetic, cellular, molecular, physiological, environmental and psychological aspects of human development, and how these processes go awry with aging, in order to best address how to repair them. Students will learn about multiple systems and techniques, including regenerative medicine, to prepare them to carry out innovative, interdisciplinary research to address critical challenges facing our developing and aging populations.

The TBMH faculty in Development, Aging, and Repair study a range of topics, including:

  • Cognitive development and aging
  • Age-related conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Development and aging of the brain, nerves, and muscles
  • Cardiac arrthymias and skin wound healing
  • Functional neuroimaging in developing and aged clinical populations
  • Genetic models of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as X-linked mental retardation
  • Development of therapeutics based on small molecules and stem cells
Example faculty research:
Martha Ann Bell

Dr. Martha Ann Bell studies developmental changes in executive function and emotion regulation during infancy and early childhood.



Dr. Willard Eyestone

Dr. Willard Eyestone uses genetic modification and somatic cell nuclear transfer to study and prevent prion disease.



Dr. Michael Fox

Dr. Michael Fox studies the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive two aspects of synapse formation in the developing brain—class-specific axonal targeting and synaptic differentiation.



Dr. Gregorio Valdez

Dr. Gregorio Valdez uses molecular, genetic, and imaging techniques to identify and manipulate molecules that protect synapses from the ravages of aging and age-related neurological diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


In addition to the core coursework taken by all TBMH students, each student will take an intensive 8 credit TBMH course specific to their focus area, and at least 3 credits of free elective coursework to further develop their expertise in this area.

Required focus area-specific coursework
  • TBMH 5064 - Fundamentals of Development, Aging, and Repair (8 cr)
Sample free elective courses
Plan of study

Program Leadership

TBMH Program Co-Director

Audra Van Wart, Ph.D.
1 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA, 24016

TBMH Program Co-Director

Steven Poelzing, Ph.D.
2 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA, 24016

Program Support

TBMH Graduate Program Coordinator

Jay Read, M.Ed.
1 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA, 24016

TBMH Education Support Specialist

Becky Guynn, M.Ed.
1 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA, 24016