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From CT By the Numbers

The UConn Center on Aging is now the home of a prestigious Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center grant, fitting for a flagship university in a state with the nation’s 7th oldest population. There are only 14 other “Pepper Centers” of excellence nationwide, named in honor of the late U.S. senator who championed research and education aimed at helping older adults maintain their independence.

One of those is in Connecticut, at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven.  The mission of the Yale Pepper Center, established in 1992, is to provide intellectual leadership and innovation for aging research that is directed at enhancing the independence of older persons.

The Yale Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC) is an inter-departmental, multidisciplinary center. The Yale Pepper Center provides support to numerous aging related projects at Yale and other institutions.  The objectives are to promote the functional independence of older Americans by:

  • increasing scientific knowledge related to multifactorial geriatric conditions

  • advancing the science of clinical decision making in multimorbid older adults

  • educating and training new investigators in research on aging from a multifactorial perspective

The five cores of the Yale Pepper Center are Leadership & Administrative Core, Biostatistics Core, Operations Core (Data Management & Informatics and Field Operations), Pilot & Exploratory Studies Core, and Research Education Core.

The goal of the Older Americans Independence Centers (OAIC) program is to increase scientific knowledge that allows older adults to maintain or restore their independence. The National Institute on Aging supports the OAICs to develop and enhance research and education at institutions with strong programs in aging research. This support is critical to address key research problems, technological limitations, and faculty development needs for future generations of appropriately-trained researchers.

Led by Dr. George Kuchel, director of the UConn Center on Aging (and professor, Travelers Chair in Geriatrics and Gerontology), UConn Health was selected in mid-2021 by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to officials, for its strong research program in aging and geriatrics involving a thriving multidisciplinary collective of basic scientists, clinical investigators, behavioral and social scientists, epidemiologists, and clinicians who bring collaborative translational expertise in cellular, genetic, population-based, and clinical sciences.

This highly competitive award and coveted designation includes a $7 million grant, which began in August 2021 and continues through 2026.

According to Kuchel, UConn’s Pepper Center will advance the new field of “precision gerontology,” which seeks to enhance independence in older adults through approaches designed to better understand the uniqueness of each older individual in a manner that can lead to the design, testing, and implementation of clinical interventions that are more targeted and precise.

 “Aging is multifaceted and not ‘one-size-fits-all,’” says Kuchel, multiple PI (principal investigator) for the UConn Pepper Center, along with Richard Fortinsky, professor and the Health Net, Inc. Endowed Chair in Geriatrics and Gerontology. “Through more targeted and individualized care, together with newly emerging geroscience-based interventions designed to delay the onset and progression of multiple chronic diseases by targeting biological aging, we can make geriatrics care even more personalized and effective. We are very proud of this important accomplishment, which will take our collective work in aging to the next level.”

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As Fortinsky explained to UConn Today, “The UConn Pepper Center will provide numerous resources to catalyze the growth of multidisciplinary, collaborative aging-related research – ranging from basic and pre-clinical to clinical, and community-based to population-based research – in a sustained fashion. We’re honored that UConn was chosen from among the most elite aging centers in the country for this recognition and endorsement.”

Fortinsky adds that he and the UConn Health team are especially interested in approaches that will enhance independence relative to mobility, memory and behavior, host defense and infection, and voiding. Two areas of particular importance among many, he said, involve a collaboration with the UConn Health Disparities Institute to increase participation in such research by older adults from typically under-represented communities, and another with the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, to add expertise in human genomics.

Among the other “Pepper Center” institutions are the University of Michigan, John Hopkins University, Duke University, University of Florida, University of Pittsburgh, Mount Sinai Medical Center, University of Maryland and University of Texas.