About Us Our Mission: Improve physical function and independence in older adults
The UTMB Pepper Center is currently comprised by four cores and one Research Education Component (REC) led by senior investigators of the Sealy Center on Aging:
- Leadership/Administrative Core : Drs. Elena Volpi and James Goodwin
- Pilot/Exploratory Studies Core: Drs. Melinda Sheffield-Moore and Kyriakos Markides
- Clinical Research Resource Core: Drs. Elena Volpi, Douglas Paddon-Jones and Gulshan Sharma
- Metabolism and Biology Resource Core: Drs. Blake Rasmussen and Labros Sidossis
- Biostatistics and Data Management Resource Core: Drs. Kristopher Jennings and Yong-Fang Kuo
- Research Education Component / RL5 Program: Drs. Kenneth Ottenbacher, Rebeca Wong and James Goodwin
The Center has been continuously funded since 2000. From the very beginning, we have nurtured 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 much needed patient-centered interventions to improve physical function and independence. This evolution derives not only from the natural progression of our research from basic discoveries to healthy humans and from healthy humans to patients, but also from a deliberate effort of the OAIC leadership to promote and support collaborations between scientists in muscle aging and investigators in population health and outcomes research on aging and rehabilitation.
This second line of research has always been present from the beginning of our OAIC, but was conducted in parallel with muscle research. The intersection of these two lines has accelerated the development of new research foci. An example is the rapid development of patient-centered outcomes research in the elderly, which culminated with the funding of a large infrastructure grant and, more recently, with our participation in the trans-Pepper patient-centered multicenter clinical trial on fall prevention.
The theme for this cycle of our OAIC is:
“Identifying pathways of physical function loss and gain and developing targeted interventions to improve functional recovery from illness in older adults”.
We are developing patient-centered interventions to promote functional recovery from illness and prevent disability and dependence in older adults by translating our discoveries in the basic biology of aging muscle and our understanding of the trajectories of care and recovery from hospitalization.
UTMB has one of fifteen Pepper Centers located throughout the United States, funded by the National Institute on Aging:
History Congressman Claude D. Pepper: Spokesman for the Elderly
During his 40 year career as a Florida congressman, Claude D. Pepper earned the reputation of being the "spokesman for the elderly". Always a strong advocate for older Americans, Pepper rejected the idea that physical and mental decline were an inevitable part of aging. He also co-authored legislation that established the National Cancer Institute, which became the first of many National Institutes of Health.
In honor of the late congressman, the Pepper OAICs were authorized by Congress to conduct, "research into the aging processes and into the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, disorders and complications related to aging, including menopause, which research includes research on such treatments, and on medical devices and other medical interventions regarding such diseases, disorders and complications, that can assist individuals in avoiding institutionalization and prolonged hospitalization and in otherwise increasing the independence of the individuals and programs to develop individuals capable of conducting research in these areas."
History of the Pepper Center at UTMB
In 2000, 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 at the time. Under the direction of principal Investigator, James S. Goodwin, MD, its major purpose was to study how muscle metabolism and function change with age and contributes to loss of independence in older persons.
In 2005, 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.
In 2010, the NIA extended Pepper funding into 2015 under a new Principal Investigator, Elena Volpi, MD, PhD. The $5.8 million award helped maintain a research infrastructure to train young investigators in aging research and to support externally funded projects on muscle aging and rehabilitation. Those projects brought 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. 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 expanded research focused on improving muscle function in older persons when they become ill and are hospitalized. The theme for this cycle of our OAIC is to “Identify pathways of physical function loss and gain and develop targeted interventions to improve functional recovery from illness in older adults”. We will develop patient centered interventions to promote functional recovery from illness and prevent disability and dependence in older adults by translating our discoveries in the basic biology of aging muscle and our understanding of the trajectories of care and recovery from hospitalization.
The Pepper Center Today, and Beyond
In 2015, the Center was refunded for the next five years by a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to continue its mission, which is to improve physical function and independence in older adults. The focus of the UTMB Pepper Center for this cycle is to identify pathways of physical function loss and gain, and develop targeted interventions to improve functional recovery from illness in older adults.