$5.8 million grant to fund study of frailty in older adults

The federal government has awarded investigators at Johns Hopkins' schools of Medicine and Public Health a multimillion-dollar, five-year grant to continue research designed to identify the causes of frailty in older adults, and to speed the development of interventions to slow or stop it.

The $5,779,078 grant renews funding of the Johns Hopkins Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, a federally designated center of excellence supported by the National Institute on Aging that is one of only 14 such university sites nationwide. The OAICs are named for a longtime Democratic member of Congress who championed support for older adults.

"With the rapid aging of the American population, it is critical that we gain a better understanding of what drives chronic illness and late-life vulnerability," says Jeremy Walston, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Division of Geriatric Medicine and principal investigator at the OAIC. "This funding will enable us to accelerate the pace of discovery in our aging research and training programs across the university."

Walston notes that by 2050, older adults are projected to make up 20 percent of the population in the United States and up to 30 percent in Japan and other countries in Asia and Europe.

At Johns Hopkins, OAIC research efforts over the last decade have concentrated on frailty, a syndrome marked by unintended weight loss, weakness, fatigue, slow speed, and low physical activity. Its presence, geriatricians say, predicts very high risk for medical and surgical complications, hospitalizations, and mortality.

Understanding the biological roots of this age-related vulnerability and identifying potential preventive and treatment strategies are the target of the multidisciplinary OAIC team, Walston says.

The OAIC includes a biostatistics resource facility, led by Karen Bandeen-Roche, co-principal investigator at the center and a professor and director of the Department of Biostatistics in the Johns

Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; biological and clinical studies resource programs; and programs that support pilot and exploratory studies.

Recent discoveries have included insights into the changes in mitochondria, the energy-generating components of cells; the impact of chronic inflammation; and the consequences of decline in multiple physiological systems with advancing age.

"Investigators in our center have focused on a common biological pathway that influences both age-related changes in mitochondria energy production and on skeletal muscle decline," Walston says. "This funding will allow us to put in motion several pharmaceutical studies that target this pathway with a commonly available anti-hypertension medication, a treatment that may revolutionize the way we think about late-life decline and chronic disease," he says.

The OAIC also funds the training of researchers focused on the problems of older adults; to date, some 60 percent of junior researchers given such funding have gone on to successfully compete for federal grants of their own, Walston says.

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Tagged aging