Two School of Medicine researchers received 2006 Investigator Awards from the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, a West Hartford, Conn.-based philanthropic organization devoted to supporting biomedical research “of practical benefit to human life.”

Hal Blumenfeld, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology, neurobiology and neurosurgery, will apply his award to a study of the effects of epileptic seizures on driving. While patients with epilepsy operate virtual-reality driving simulators, Blumenfeld will use neuroimaging and electroencephalography to determine which brain regions are involved in epileptic seizures and the effects of seizure-induced loss of consciousness on driving safety.

“This will be the first time that driving impairment during seizures will be directly measured,” says Blumenfeld, who hopes to design improved treatments to preserve consciousness and prevent car accidents among individuals with epilepsy.

Becca Levy, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology and psychology, studies how psychological factors, particularly how older individuals perceive aging, affect health in old age. Her research demonstrated for the first time that positive age stereotypes can improve the physical and cognitive functioning of older individuals and that positive self-perceptions of age are associated with increased longevity. With her Investigator Award, Levy will conduct a randomized controlled trial to test whether healthy behaviors can be promoted by positive beliefs about aging in older individuals.

“It is exciting to have the opportunity to build on our findings and apply them to health promotion,” Levy says, adding that the interventions she is studying are likely to benefit high-risk groups of older individuals in Connecticut, particularly African-Americans.

The foundation launched the Donaghue Investigator program in 1998 to support scientists at Connecticut academic institutions whose work promises “a direct, near-term impact on improving public health, clinical practice or community health interventions.” The program, now in its final year, provides five-year, $600,000 awards to investigators.

In announcing the 2006 awards, Raymond S. Andrews Jr., co-trustee of the Donaghue Foundation with Bank of America, said, “We are pleased that Donaghue can provide the type of support to talented researchers that will allow them to pursue innovative and important answers to significant health problems.”