Pepper Centers—a chain of spice shops?! Maybe. But at NIA, when we talk about Pepper Centers, we mean our prized centers of excellence in geriatrics research. They support biomedical research leading to maintenance of functional independence into older age.
How could the Pepper Centers be important to you?
I encourage you to look at joint and multidisciplinary projects that can enhance the already-excellent work that many Centers have undertaken. And, to look to them as a data resource for your studies in aging. The map on the Coordinating Center’s website provides links to each Center’s website, where you can find out more about their resources and people.
One really useful resource is the Pepper Center Integrated Aging Studies Databank and Repository. Here you will find over 20 interventional or observational studies in older cohorts with their associated data and stored specimens. Datasets include extensive assessments of physical and cognitive function, body composition, and quality of life, and many of the stored specimens include skeletal muscle biopsies. There is also a study of healthy aging that can be a great source of reference data for studies in older clinical populations.
Who was Claude Pepper?
Named for the late senator and congressman from Florida, the Centers’ full name is the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers. Senator Pepper championed the cause of older people through decades of tireless advocacy. In 1988, Congress passed legislation authorizing NIH to establish Geriatric Research and Training Centers. Claude Pepper died the following year, and the year after that, Congress renamed these centers in his honor and expanded their scope.
What do the Pepper Centers do?
Since their beginnings, the Centers have grown steadily in number and reach, both within and outside the Pepper network. Today, the Centers are a major resource for aging research locally as well as nationally. They serve as:
- foci of geriatrics research expertise and collaboration
- potential sources of data, biospecimens, and aging research tools
- sites for training in aging-related research
- venues for dissemination of geriatric health information
Want to know more about the research that each Center is doing? The Pepper Coordinating Center publishes an annual report that describes the investigators, pilot studies, other research projects, and publications associated with each Center. When you read through it, you’ll notice that each Center is organized around a particular research focus. These include themes like late-life disability in vulnerable populations, palliative care in older adults, and age-related sarcopenia.
How do I find a Pepper Center near me?
Today, there are 14 Centers peppered across the country. You can see a map of them on the Pepper National Coordinating Center’s website.
Heard of the LIFE study? That was the Pepper Centers.
An early major collaboration among the Centers was the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study, a large-scale randomized controlled trial of physical activity interventions to preserve mobility in older adults. The multiple sites of this study included 5 of the Centers. The successful intervention demonstrated that a program of exercise and support is an effective approach to reducing disability.
Centers provide access to experts, mentors, and resources to conduct research
More recently, the NIA and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute awarded a consortium involving all the Centers to conduct a large-scale effectiveness trial of tailored interventions to prevent serious fall-related injuries in older adults. In addition to clinical trials, the Centers are also partnering with the HMO Research Network and the NIH-funded Centers for AIDS Research in two separate projects to expand the reach of aging in large healthcare systems and in HIV-infected populations, respectively. Common among all these initiatives is the Centers’ role of providing resources to conduct research through secondary analyses, ancillary studies, and pilot awards, as well as access to experts and potential mentors in aging research.
Claude Pepper said, “…More and more, younger generations have come to realize that in their elders they have a precious and useful asset, not a burden...” The Centers that bear his name are a great asset doing important work to advance the health and independence of an even greater national asset, our older population.