In 1999, the University of Texas Medical Branch, Sealy Center on Aging was awarded a $6.5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to establish the UTMB Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC), the only Pepper Center serving the Southwest. Under the direction of Principle Investigator, James S. Goodwin, M.D., its major purpose was to study how muscle metabolism and function change with age and contributes to loss of independence in older persons.
In 2004, the UTMB OAIC grant was approved for renewed funding by NIA for an additional five years. The new focus of the UTMB OAIC was to examine muscle function from interdisciplinary perspectives across the entire spectrum of biomedical investigation—from molecular biology to outcomes assessment. Pepper investigators were key in UTMB receiving its Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) award in 2009.
Also in 2009, the NIA extended Pepper funding into 2015 under a new Principle Investigator, Elena Volpi, M.D., Ph.D. The $5.8 million award helps maintain a research infrastructure to train young investigators in aging research and to support externally funded projects on muscle aging and rehabilitation. Those projects bring more than $20 million to UTMB, mainly from the NIH. The center's 37 investigators have generated more than 300 scientific papers since its inception.
A major goal of the Pepper center is to develop interventions to reduce loss of muscle and function that occurs in older adults. More than 750 volunteers from Galveston and the nearby mainland have already participated in Pepper Center research, most involving muscle studies. Promising treatments focus on nutrition, testosterone and exercise.
During this five year cycle, the center will pay particular attention to expanding research that focuses on improving muscle function in older persons when they become ill and are hospitalized, even briefly.
- Provide support to funded interdisciplinary translational research on age-related sarcopenia (muscle degeneration) by investigators at UTMB and with other (OAIC)s.
- Stimulate additional interdisciplinary research by funding pilot grants and developmental projects.
- Train future leaders in translational interdisciplinary research on the causes, pathophysiology, prevention and treatment of sarcopenia.
- Recruit established investigators to the study of age-related sarcopenia.
- Foster collaborations between UTMB investigators and investigators at other institutions on studies of age-related sarcopenia.