Fighting Frailty

June 1, 2009

As more Americans enter old age, they face challenges staying active and healthy. A new drug being studied at Duke has the potential to keep them strong later in life.

Capromorelin, a compound developed by Pfizer, can help the body release more growth hormone and, as a result, prevent frailty. Older adults do not produce as much growth hormone—which regulates metabolism and aids in the building of muscle mass even after adolescent growth has been completed—as younger people do.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, is the first to show improvements in physical performance among at-risk seniors taking capromorelin. Nearly 400 men and women age sixty-five to eighty-four, with mild functional limitations, participated in the study.

"As we age, decreased strength and physical agility trigger a cascade of events leading to loss of independence and disability," says Heidi K. White HS '94, associate professor of medicine at Duke and first author of the report. "By boosting the production of growth hormone, we may be able to slow this process and help people lead active lives longer."

Researchers note that the study results can be compared with other studies that looked at the effect of exercise alone. A home-based exercise program among a similar group of seniors produced a 23 to 34 percent improvement in a stair-climbing test after ten weeks. Participants in the growth-hormone study did not exercise, and their stair-climbing ability improved by just 7 percent.

"Following further investigation, capromorelin could be used in combination with exercise," White says.