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Mission and History

The Mission of Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers is to improve physical function and independence in older adults.

2020-2025 Theme

Translate Pathways of Function Loss and Gain into Interventions to Optimize Functional Recovery in Diverse Geriatric Populations

National Pepper Center

ClaudeDPepperCongressman 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."

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). It was 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 contribute to loss of independence in older persons.

In 2005, the UTMB OAIC grant funding was renewed 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 first Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) in 2009.

In 2010, the NIA refunded the UTMB Pepper OAIC into 2015 under a new Principal Investigator, Elena Volpi, MD, PhD. The $5.8 million award supported the research infrastructure to train young investigators in aging research and to enhance externally funded projects. Those projects brought more than $20 million to UTMB, mainly from the NIH. The theme was, "transforming biological mechanisms of muscle growth and loss to improve function and recovery in older adults."

In 2015, the Center was refunded for the next five years by a $3.4 million grant from the NIA to continue its mission to improve physical function and independence in older adults. The focus of the previous cycle was to, "identify pathways of physical function loss and gain, and develop targeted interventions to improve functional recovery from illness in older adults."

Most recently in 2020, the Center was refunded for a fifth time -- now through 2025 -- with a $6.3 million grant from the NIA. The current theme is to “translate pathways of function loss and gain into interventions to optimize functional recovery in diverse geriatric populations."

Promising treatments focus on nutrition, testosterone, and exercise. During this five-year cycle, the Center is expanding our research in the areas of novel therapeutics, Hispanic aging, and recovery from neurologic diseases. Center activities will take place through the Metabolism and Biology, Clinical Research, and Biostatistics, and Data Management Resource Cores.

The Center's investigators have generated more than 700 scientific papers since its inception. More than 5000 volunteers from Galveston and the nearby mainland have already participated in Pepper Center research involving muscle studies and clinical trials.