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The UTMB Pepper Center Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC)

The UTMB Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC), currently directed by
Elena Volpi, MD, PhD, has been continuously funded since 2000. Our Center nurtures a multidisciplinary translational research culture to fulfill our mission, which is to improve physical function and independence in older adults. Central to this mission is the career development and training of the next generation of leaders in geriatric research. Our scientific focus has evolved over the years from a narrow interest in the mechanisms of sarcopenia to the translation of our findings in patient-centered interventions to improve physical function and independence in older adults.

The Pepper Center at UTMB has recently been refunded through 2020 by a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute on Aging. Read more about us.

Pepper Center News

3 Publications in Gerontology

Three UTMB Pepper Center publications in the October 2019 issue of The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences

By SCoA | October 11, 2019

photo of group of older adults with link to video

Three scientific papers supported by the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at UTMB have been published in The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, Special Section: Interventions with EEA or Protein Quality. Click to learn more and view video: Improving Physical Function and Independence in Older Adults.

Discover Exercise: MoTrPAC

MoTrPAC Study Now Recruiting Volunteers, Age 18 & older

By SCoA | Sepetmber 27, 2019

photo of woman with trainer exercising

The Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, also known as the MoTrPAC research study, is one of the largest efforts to study physical activity involving universities, medical centers, researchers, and most importantly participants from all over the country. For years, we have known that being physically active is good for our health, but until this point there has not been a clear understanding of what actually is happening deep within the body, or how the molecular structure of the body changes to improve and preserve health. Having a better understanding of how the body changes with physical activity will help researchers and clinicians to better prescribe and tailor exercise programming in the future. This research program is the largest target National Institutes of Health (NIH) investment aimed at understanding how physical activity improves health and prevents disease.

We are looking for volunteers who:

  • Are 18 years of age or older
  • Exercise 1 time a week or less
  • Have no history of diabetes or heart disease
  • Would like to have an opportunity to exercise with a personal trainer for 12 weeks and have study-relatedhealth exams at UTMB.
  • Visit motrpac.org/join

Read more about MoTrPAC.

New Activity Grant

Paddon-Jones Receives $2 million from the National Institute on Aging to Help Adults Return to Full Activity

By SCoA | August 28, 2019

photo of man and skeleton with muscleAfter being in bed or having an injury like a broken leg, adults can take a long time to get back to their previous level of physical performance.

To help solve this problem, Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD, FACSM has been awarded $2,009,742 from the National Institute on Aging for his project, "Sex-specific determinants of early-phase recovery from skeletal muscle disuse."

The goal of the project is to map changes in key metabolic and molecular transducers of skeletal muscle disuse and rehabilitation in middle-aged men and women, while tracking clinically relevant morphologic, body composition and muscle function outcomes. The four-year project will run from August 2019 to March 2023.

The project addresses the major problems with current rehabilitation strategies. These include the inability to identify which patients are most at risk for decline during inactivity. Also, exercise as a prescription is now mostly done with a generic, one-size-fits-all approach, which does not optimize the benefit for all patients. Finally, we do not know the effect of exercise on those who have been immobile and how it is different from the effect on those who exercise regularly. Read press release.

Meet & Greet

SCoA hosts community for informational session about aging research initiatives

By SCoA | May 30, 2019

photo of groupThe Sealy Center on Aging recently hosted over a dozen representatives from local area nursing, long term care, rehabilitation, skilled home health and personal assistance home care organizations. Dr. Volpi, director of the Center and leading aging researcher presented information about current research initiatives at UTMB.

If you are interested in learning more about opportunities to become involved in research, email aging.research@utmb.edu or call 1-800-298-7015.

Pepper Exchange Program

Dr. Hreha selected for the inaugural Pepper Centers Coordinating Center Early Career Scholar exchange program

By SCoA | May 22, 2019

photo of womanAssistant Professor Kimberly Hreha, EdD, OTR/L has been selected as the inaugural Pepper Centers Coordinating Center Early Career Scholar exchange program. Dr. Hreha is a scholar in the UTMB Pepper Center.

This program was designed to offer collaborative mentoring or exposure to a diverse conceptual viewpoints and operational methods, beyond those available at their faculty institution.

Dr. Hreha will travel to Duke to work with Dr. Heather Whitson, Associate Professor in Medicine and Ophthalmology, and Deputy Director of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. Dr. Whitson also leads Duke’s Pepper Center Pilot and Exploratory Studies Core.

Pepper Annual Meeting

Researchers from UTMB attend Annual Pepper OAIC Meeting

By SCoA | April 26, 2019

photo of groupResearchers from the Sealy Center on Aging attended the annual Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Center meeting April 25-26, 2019. Pictured left to right: Monique Pappadis, Yong-Fang Kuo, Kimberly Hreha, Brian Downer, Rachel Deer with son, Ken Ottenbacher, Elena Volpi, Blake Rasmussen and Rafael Samper-Ternent.

  • Rachel Deer, PhD presented, "Comparison of Malnutrition Screening Tools for Use in Hospitalized Older Adults."
  • Brian Downer, PhD presented, "Temporal Relationship between Physical and Cognitive Impairment and the Association with Mortality among Older Mexican Adults."
  • Rafael Samper-Ternent, MD, PhD presented, "Health Disparities in Medical Care and Social Support of Adults with Dementia."
  • Blake Rasmussen, PhD presented, “Role of Periodic mTORC1 Activation in the Prevention of Sarcopenia,” in a Biology of Aging breakout session moderated by Elena Volpi, MD, PhD.

Dr. Volpi on Protein

This is why you need to eat more protein as you age

By Considerable | April 25, 2019

photo of womanDr. Volpi was recently quoted about protein:

“The total dose that you eat may not matter as much as the dose you eat at a given meal,” said Dr. Elena Volpi, a professor of geriatrics and cell biology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. “If I eat too little protein during a meal, I may not adequately stimulate the uptake of amino acids into skeletal muscle. If I eat too much, say from a large T-bone steak, I won’t be able to store all of it away.”

Based on her research, Volpi suggests that older adults eat 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal. Practically, that means rethinking what people eat at breakfast, when protein intake tends to be lowest. “Oatmeal or cereal with milk isn’t enough; people should think of adding a Greek yogurt, an egg, or a turkey sausage,” Volpi said.

Stopping Muscle Wasting

UTMB Researchers Seek to Block the Process of Muscle Wasting with Age

By SCoA | April 10, 2019

molecule graphicBy age of 60, 30% of US adults will suffer from sarcopenia, characterized by clinically recognizable chronic muscle degeneration manifesting as extreme fatigue, weakness, and greatly reduced physical activity. To combat this decline, UTMB investigators Drs. Stanley Watowich and Christopher Fry received funding for an innovative study of drugs to block the molecular processes involved. Read more about the new study, Development of NNMT inhibitors as novel interventions to activate quiescent muscle stem cells and improve age-related muscle degeneration.

Dr. Fry is a Core Investigator at the Sealy Center on Aging and co-leader of the Metabolism and Biology Resource Core in the UTMB Pepper Center.

Scholar Keynote

Pepper Scholar Presents Keynote on Traumatic Brain Injury

By SCoA | April 10, 2019

photo of womanRL5 Scholar Monique Pappadis, MEd, PhD presented a keynote address, "Educating Families and Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Are We Doing Enough?" at the Annual Council on Brain Injury Conference. on April 9, 2019 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Recovery from Hospitalization

UTMB Researchers Help Older Patients Recover Better

By SCoA | April 1, 2019

photo of woman A new paper, A Phase I Randomized Clinical Trial of Evidence-Based, Pragmatic Interventions to Improve Functional Recovery After Hospitalization in Geriatric Patients, in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences shows potential new ways to speed up recovery from the hospital. UTMB researchers, led by Elena Volpi, MD, PhD, tried different strategies to boost the function of older adults hospitalized for an acute illness. Read press release from Sealy Center on Aging.

This article was the result of a pilot study performed in the Acute Care for Elders Unit at UTMB.

Lead author Rachel R. Deer, PhD is an Assistant Professor, Division of Rehabilitation Sciences at UTMB. She also has appointments in the Division of Nutrition and Metabolism and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Deer is an RL5 Scholar in the UTMB Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Center. Her research focuses on interventions to accelerate functional recovery from hospitalization in older adults.

Improving Muscle

New Publication on Improving Muscle in Older Adults

By SCoA | February 7, 2019

photoDoctoral Student Camille Brightwell is the first author on a new publication, "Moderate Intensity Aerobic Exercise Improves Skeletal Muscle Quality in Older Adults," in Translational Sports Medicine. Additional co-authors include M.M. Markofski, T. Moro, C.S. Fry, C. Porter, E. Volpi, and B.B. Rasmussen.

Camille is a current trainee in the Pre and Postdoctoral TrainingT32 - Health of Older Minorities program at the Sealy Center on Aging. She is also a member of the Muscle Biology Laboratory affiliated with the Center for Recovery, Physical Activity and Nutrition.

Protein and Inactivity

New study finds that correct amounts of protein during inactivity helps protect muscle mass

By UTMB Newsroom | January 30, 2019

photo of groupGALVESTON, Texas – A new research study suggests that improving the quality of protein people eat while on bed rest could actually help protect muscle mass and burn fat.

“When a person is restricted to bed rest, even for a few days, they typically lose muscle and gain fat,” said Dr. Douglas Paddon-Jones, a professor at UTMB and senior author of the study. “Simply eating more food and protein may help protect muscle, but will likely increase body fat. Conversely, eating less food may help avoid fat gain, but will accelerate muscle loss.  In this study, we were interested in finding a pragmatic, practical approach to help deal with this issue.” Read more at the UTMB Newsroom.

Read the article in the Journals of Gerontology, Improving Dietary Protein Quality Reduces the Negative Effects of Physical Inactivity on Body Composition and Muscle Function by Emily J Arentson-Lantz, PhD, Elfego Galvan, RD, PhD, Jennifer Ellison, PT, PhD, Adam Wacher, MD, and Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD.

Lefeber Winter Series

24th Annual Lefeber Winter Series on Aging at UTMB

By UTMB Provost's Office | January 25, 2019

photo of Dr. Lefeber and text about winter series, video available

When the Sealy Center on Aging initiated its winter lecture series 24 years ago, it was the perfect opportunity to honor the vision of Dr. Edward James Lefeber. The late UTMB Professor of Medicine had been a strong proponent of elder care and the study of aging at a time when few doctors were prepared to care for older patients. Read more about the Lefeber Winter Series in this article from the UTMB Provost's Office.

Lectures will be held each Tuesday evening beginning at 5pm January 29th through February 26th, 2019.

Protein and Older Adults

For older adults, a protein-rich diet is important for health

By Washington Post | January 19, 2019

Dr. Elena Volpi, Director of UTMB's Sealy Center on Aging

There is a growing consensus that as people age they need to eat more protein-rich foods, particularly when dealing with a chronic or acute illness, or facing a hospitalization. During these stressful times, aging bodies process protein less efficiently and need more of it to maintain muscle mass. UTMB’s Elena Volpi said it is not just the total amount of protein one eats, but also how much they eat at a given meal.

“If I eat too little protein during a meal, I may not adequately stimulate the uptake of amino acids into skeletal muscle. If I eat too much, say from a large T-bone steak, I won’t be able to store it all away,” Volpi said.

This news is also covered in Gay San DiegoPittsburgh Post-GazetteThe Philadelphia InquirerSalonThe Washington Post and Navigating Aging.

Metabolism Publication

New Metabolism Publication

By SCoA | January 17, 2019

mitochondria graphicNew publication, "Skeletal Muscle Specific Knockout of DEP Domain-Containing 5 Increases mTORC1 Signaling, Muscle Cell Hypertrophy, and Mitochondrial Respiration" by Ted G. Graber, Christopher S. Fry, Camille R. Brightwell, Tatiana Moro, Rosario Maroto, Nisha Bhattari, Craig Porter, Maki Wakamiya and Blake B. Rasmussen.

“In this study, we knocked out the gene for DEPDC5, which is a subunit of the GATOR1 protein complex (a negative regulator of mTORC1—the master regulator of protein synthesis), in adult skeletal muscle in mice. GATOR1 shuts off protein synthesis in the cell when there are insufficient amino acids present. When we depleted DEPDC5, we determined a constitutive activation of mTORC1 leading to muscle hypertrophy increased mitochondrial respiration without functional improvements. Thus, we uncovered a role for DEPDC5/GATOR1 in the regulation of mitochondrial respiration, hinting that amino acid sensing apparatus in the cell may be more involved in metabolic programming than previously thought.

Dr. Graber is a member of the Muscle Biology Laboratory team in CeRPAN and a postdoctoral trainee in the Division of Rehabilitation Sciences at UTMB.

Call for Pilots

Call for Pilot Project Applications

By SCoA | January 11, 2019

graphicThe UTMB Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center encourages UTMB investigators to submit pilot research proposals in the area aging, physical function and recovery from illness in older adults. Proposals from any domain of translational research (T1-T4) are welcome. Projects will be funded for one year, with total annual direct costs not to exceed $50,000.

Areas of research include but are not limited to: basic science, clinical trials, patient-centered outcomes, and population health. Learn more.

New Cognition Grant

New Grant on Cognition & Quality of Skilled Nursing Facilities

By SCoA | January 11, 2019

photoRehabilitation Sciences Assistant Professor Brian Downer, PhD is the recipient of a K01 Grant, "Improvement in Patients’ Cognition and Relationship with SNF Quality Measures." from the National Institute on Aging of the NIH. Dr. Downer is a Core Research Investigator at the Sealy Center on Aging and a Pepper Center Scholar. Congratulations, Dr. Downer!

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The Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center Award #P30-AG024832 is funded by
the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.