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University of Maryland Pepper Center Receives $6 Million Renewal Grant

Tuesday, November 05, 2006

 Dr. Andrew Goldberg

The Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has received a $6 million grant renewal from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). This prestigious award will provide funding for collaborative,interdisciplinary research in aging and rehabilitation through 2011 and enable the University of Maryland School of Medicine and its collaborative affiliate, the Baltimore VA Medical Center’s Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center, to maintain their status as national leaders in aging research. 

The Pepper Center’s mission is to conduct exercise and neuromotor rehabilitation research to improve the recovery of older adults with stroke, hip fracture or chronic debilitating diseases associated with aging. The ultimate goal of the investigators is to translate their research findings into effective clinical rehabilitation programs for older adults living with a disability.

The Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center Program was established in honor of Claude D. Pepper, the late U.S. senator from Florida. During his five decades of public service, Senator Pepper was a strong and effective advocate for the health and well-being of older adults and built a legacy of ongoing research support to promote independence, function, and quality of life in the elderly.

“This award will support collaborations among a multidisciplinary team of investigators in the conduct of exercise rehabilitation,” says Andrew P. Goldberg, M.D., professor of medicine and head of the division of gerontology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and principal investigator at the Pepper Center. “The Pepper Center research will focus on stroke, hip fracture, obesity-type 2 diabetes and other conditions associated with aging, and the translation of these findings into effective community-based rehabilitation programs.

“Our findings from the past 10 years show that exercise can reduce many of the functional declines, disabilities and health consequences associated with stroke, heart failure and peripheral arterial occlusive disease that often affect functionality and independence in older adults,” says Dr. Goldberg. “This renewed funding will allow us to expand our research to examine mechanisms underlying disability in older people and better support community-based studies. The center’s research career development and leadership cores will mentor junior investigators in the conduct of research on aging and provide support for them as they transition to become independent researchers.”

Under the new grant, the Pepper Center will be reorganized into five core research areas: clinical & translational research methods; neuromotor function; applied clinical physiology; muscle biology & molecular mechanisms of inflammation; and biostatistics & informatics. “These core areas will support other NIH-funded research projects focused on stroke, hip fractures and exercise and weight loss as they relate to obesity and type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Goldberg. “We also plan to develop a battery of tests to precisely characterize disability in a large sample of older adults to determine the biological mechanisms underlying physical and functional impairments. As a result, the Pepper Center will design customized rehabilitation programs that target the functional and physiological mechanisms causing disability.”  

During the last decade, one major Pepper Center research project involved task-oriented treadmill exercise training. The focus of this research was to train individuals with stroke who had impaired leg movement to gradually regain ambulatory function, resulting in increased blood flow and activation of the brain that caused improvements in motor function. Participants also demonstrated a decrease in key cardiovascular risk factors, including glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. A second stroke-related study involved upper extremity training using bilateral arm training with rhythmic auditory cueing. Participants demonstrated improved arm function due to increased brain activation, an indication that neural adaptations in the brain are possible even years after a stroke.

The Pepper Center’s facilities are based in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Departments of Medicine, Neurology, Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences, Epidemiology & Preventive Medicine and the Baltimore VA Medical Center’s Geriatric Research, Educational and Clinical Center. Since establishing the center, investigators have developed strong research collaborations with scientists in the Department of Neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Hertie Brain Research Institute in Germany, the Neumann Robotics Engineering Facility at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Institutes of Health’s Physical Disabilities Branch and National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research.

“Investigators at the Pepper Center are confident that the strong, collaborative research team and resources provided by the National Institute on Aging will lead to novel rehabilitation strategies that will improve the function and lifestyle of older Americans living with disability,” says Dr. Goldberg.

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