Rochester, Minnesota




The research of Marissa J. Schafer, Ph.D., focuses on cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to age-related brain dysfunction, with the goal of developing strategies to prevent, slow or reverse cognitive decline. Cellular senescence and inflammation are interconnected causes and consequences of tissue aging. Dr. Schafer and her research team synergistically investigate the brain-specific and peripheral impact of senescent cells and inflammation on brain aging and cognitive health.

Researchers in Dr. Schafer's lab implement a multidisciplinary approach that spans the basic-to-translational continuum. They leverage state-of-the-art cellular, molecular and behavioral methods in mouse models of aging, coupled with clinical data and biomarker analyses, to discover mechanisms of dysfunction and develop therapeutics to combat age-related cognitive dysfunction.

Focus areas

  • Brain cell senescence. The brain cell landscape undergoes dynamic changes throughout the life span that play instructive roles in cognitive health. Dr. Schafer's research team is studying the identity of senescent cells in the brain, how they modify brain microenvironments, and how they can be therapeutically targeted to prevent age-related cognitive decline.
  • Progeronic circulating milieu. Blood circulatory exchange of molecules and cells is a mechanism by which distal tissues communicate to influence organismal health and function. Dr. Schafer's lab studies blood constituents that drive aging phenotypes. This includes identifying circulating proteins secreted by senescent cells throughout the body and devising strategies to block their adverse influence.
  • Sex differences in brain aging. Across the life span, women and men display distinct differences in brain cell composition. Researchers in Dr. Schafer's lab investigate fundamental sex differences in brain and systemic aging that may contribute to and serve as a therapeutic target for attenuating cognitive decline.

Significance to patient care

Aging is a primary risk factor for multiple chronic conditions, including cognitive decline and dementia. Dr. Schafer's lab seeks to understand fundamental aging mechanisms and their influence on local and systemic tissue health and function. Their goal is to identify therapeutic approaches that may prevent or reduce late-life cognitive dysfunction, which has broad societal impact.

Professional highlights

  • Recipient, Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00), National Institutes of Health, 2018-2023
  • Recipient, Society for Neuroscience Professional Development Award, 2018
  • Recipient, Glenn Foundation and American Federation for Aging Research Fellowship for Translational Research on Aging, 2016-2017


Administrative Appointment

  1. Senior Associate Consultant II-Research, Department of Physiology & Biomedical Engineering
  2. Senior Associate Consultant II-Research, Department of Neurology

Academic Rank

  1. Assistant Professor of Neurology
  2. Assistant Professor of Physiology


  1. Ph.D. - Cellular and Molecular Biology New York University
  2. Master of Science - Cellular and Molecular Biology New York University
  3. BA - Biology and Chemistry, Honors Program Minnesota State University Moorhead

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