UAMS Aging Institute Receives $5.5 Million to Establish Research Center

By David Robinson

The five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging establishes the Arkansas Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC) at UAMS, one of 12 such centers in the United States.

Led by Jeanne Y. Wei, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of the UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging, the new center will be housed in part of the additional laboratory, training and administrative space in four new floors under construction at the institute.

“We are extremely excited about this grant because it is the cornerstone for research that will help aging Arkansans remain independent and even regain their independence,” Wei said.

The center’s mission is to find ways to better maintain or restore independence to older persons by:

• Studying the cause of declining skeletal muscle function and heart performance as people grow older and translate those findings to improve nutritional recommendations and standards of care
• Introducing state-of-the-art research methods for studying protein metabolism to better enable basic molecular-based studies that result in clinical trials aimed at improving the health of aging Arkansans
• Using novel interventions in the prevention and treatment of heart and skeletal muscle weakness
• Promoting aging research by young scientists and training new geriatricians and gerontologists to improve functional independence of older Arkansans through targeted therapeutic interventions

“Our research will broaden the understanding of weakness of the cardiac and skeletal muscles that occurs as a result of aging or age-related diseases,” said Wei, who has more than 30 years experience conducting gerontological research. “It will help us design methods to prevent and treat this weakness with nutrient supplementation, therapeutic nutrition and other interventions.”

Wei’s major research includes the effects of aging on the cardiovascular system, the biology of aging, and mechanisms of cardiac dysfunction. The Reynolds Institute on Aging is recruiting several nationally known researchers in aging whose work will be partially supported by the grant.

Under terms of the grant, researchers at UAMS will also collaborate with colleagues at the Reynolds Department of Geriatrics and Center on Aging at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.

“Our center will provide an environment that supports and nurtures new and promising investigators, including geriatrician scientists, while increasing the scientific community’s interest in committing to pursue research in aging,” Wei said.

“Americans are living longer, happier lives as a result of modern medicine,” U.S. Sen. John Boozman said. “The Institute on Aging at UAMS is on the forefront of research that enables us to maintain independent lives as we age. They do tremendous work finding ways to help our seniors live independently, and I am pleased that they will be able to build on their efforts as a result of this grant.”

“I am proud that UAMS is leading the way in improving the quality of life for older Americans and that its work has been recognized by the National Institute on Aging,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who represents Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District.

“It’s fitting that the UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging is joining this elite group of research centers,” U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor said. “The Reynolds Institute on Aging has a well-deserved reputation for delivering results for Arkansas’ aging population, and I’m glad to see our tax dollars being invested for this extremely important purpose.”

The 12 research centers honor the late Claude Denson Pepper, who as a U.S. senator (1936-1951) and U.S. representative (1963-1989) from Florida, advocated for legislation that would help improve and preserve the quality of life for Americans with advancing age. Each center has its own particular research interests. Some look at factors that contribute to disability; some study specific age-related conditions that lead to or increase risk for loss of function; and others design and test interventions that may prevent or delay disability.
Wei noted that the Pepper centers have an Arkansas connection. Former U.S. Sen. David Pryor (Sen. Mark Pryor’s father) was chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging (1989-1995) when the Pepper centers were established 20 years ago.

“As committee chairman, Senator Pryor was a key supporter of the centers and helped ensure their creation,” Wei said. “We are forever grateful for his support of the centers and for his many years of dedicated service on behalf of seniors.”

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. Named best Little Rock metropolitan area hospital by U.S. News & World Report, it is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 2,836 students and 761 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or