Wake Forest Baptist One of Five Centers Receiving $5.3 million NIH Grant to Study Inflammation and Mobility

October 29, 2015

As people age, they almost always develop chronic, low-grade inflammation throughout their bodies. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, University of Florida Health and four other institutions have received a three-year $5.3 million grant to study whether reducing this inflammation could help avert loss of mobility in older adults.

Researchers know that low-grade chronic inflammation is a risk factor for disability, impaired mobility and slower walking speed. The newly funded pilot study, called Enabling Reduction of Low-Grade Inflammation in Seniors, or ENRGISE, will test whether fish oil and the blood pressure drug losartan — which have been shown to lower inflammation — could improve physical function.  

“The levels of inflammation we are studying are way below the traditional levels of inflammation that you can observe when you have an acute infection such as pneumonia or sepsis,” said Marco Pahor, M.D., director of the University of Florida (UF) Institute on Aging and co-principal investigator of the study along with Walter T. Ambrosius, Ph.D., chair of the department of biostatistical sciences in the division of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist. “We are talking about much lower levels that are chronic and associated with aging, not always disease.”         

The researchers plan to recruit 300 older adults who are at risk for or already have impaired mobility, depending on the person’s walking speed and self-reported mobility difficulty. The study will include participants who have elevated levels of interleukin 6, the protein most consistently associated with difficulty in mobility, according to Pahor. The study’s goal will be to determine whether fish oil and losartan can lower levels of interleukin 6 and increase walking speed.

Twenty years ago, Pahor investigated the connection between disability in adults and proteins associated with inflammation, particularly interleukin 6, plasma c-reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.

“The question we are now asking is whether reducing the level of these proteins will maintain older people’s physical function and mobility, prevent mobility disability and ultimately help them maintain independence,” Pahor said.

The research builds upon the Lifestyle Intervention and Independence for Elders, or LIFE, study, a trial and previous partnership between UF and Wake Forest Baptist, among four other field centers, Ambrosius said.

“This is looking at a different intervention, reducing inflammation in the hopes that we might be able to design a study that would target inflammation in order to preserve the ability of people to walk,” Ambrosius said. “But the ultimate goal is to develop therapies that can preserve people’s ability to walk and live independently.”

The research will take place at four institutions in addition to Wake Forest Baptist and UF. The investigators include Michael Miller, Ph.D.; Mark Espeland, Ph.D.; Stephen Kritchevsky, Ph.D.; and Daniel Beavers, Ph.D. at Wake Forest Baptist. The investigators include Samuel Wu, Ph.D.; Todd Manini, Ph.D.; and Stephen Anton, Ph.D. at UF; Mary McDermott, M.D., at Northwestern University; Christine Liu, M.D., and Roger Fielding, Ph.D., at Tufts University; Anne Newman, M.D., M.P.H., and Jane Cauley, Dr.PH., at the University of Pittsburgh; and Russell Tracy, Ph.D., at the University of Vermont.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging supports the study under award number U01AG050499. 

Media Relations

Mac Ingraham: mingraha@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-3487