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The Exercise Antidote

Nutrition and Metabolism Faculty Focus On How Exercise Causes Good Health

SHP Nutrition and Metabolism faculty shed light on their $6.6 million grant, the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC). The grant allows UTMB to join forces with other institutions to examine and provide understanding on how physical activity improves health over a five-year period.

There is little dispute that exercise is good for us. Getting fit is consistently one of the most New Year's resolutions and many Americans commit - and recommit - to a new workout routine more than once a year. Numerous scientific studies link exercise to a host of benefits for your body, from boosts of insertion levels to lowering risk for heart disease.

"Your body experiences health benefits for 48 hours after you exercise," says Blake Rasmussen, PhD, professor and chair of UTMB's Department of Nutrition and Metabolism. What we don't fully understand yet, however, is how exercise causes good health.

What happens to your body when you work out? UTMB and other institutions around the country are joining forces to find out. UTMB recently received a $6.6 million grant to participate in a national project, the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC), which aims to better understand how physical activity improves health.

Research will be conducted at 23 collaborating institutions, with an overall goal of recruiting approximately 3,000 participants in the clinical trial.

"The purpose is to develop a comprehensive molecular map of how exercise affects the human body," says Dr. Rasmussen, lead investigator of the study.

Scientists from UTMB , The University of Texas Health Science Center and The University of Texas at San Antonio will collaborate as the University of Texas Adult Clinical Center (UTACC) - one of seven clinical centers across the country - which will study 450 individuals over five years.

While scientists have studied the effects of exercise extensively in recent decades, much of the research has been focused on specific systems or issues - examining the brain, the lungs or the heart, for example. MoTrPAC is the first study of its kind,, says Dr. Rasmussen: "It's never been examined on such a large scope."

The study should shed light on the mechanisms involved in producing the health benefits of physical activity and lead to interventions that could affect millions of people across the nation. MoTrPAC is particularly timely, says Dr. Rasmussen, as the American society is becoming more overweight and experiencing high rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, which is related to physical inactivity and affects more than 29 million Americans.

"Exercise is better than any diabetes drug available on the markets," he says.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, adequate physical activity could prevent one in 10 premature deaths and help prevent various illnesses including breast and colorectal cancers, diabetes and heat disease. The CDC also reports that only 21 percent of American adults get the recommended amount of aerobic exercise and strength training and $117 billion in annual health care costs are associated with inadequate physical activity.

"Physical activity is an important preventative strategy against poor health and anyone - young, old, or in between - can do it," says Elizabeth Protas, PT, PhD, FACSM, FAPTA, senior vice president and dean of the School of Health Professions.

Researchers will enlist a diverse group of volunteers - from different races, sexes, ages and fitness levels - to accurately represent the American population. Blood, muscle tissue and adipose tissue, or fat, samples will be collected from participants before and after they engage in 12-week training programs (resistance or aerobic exercise), as well as volunteers in a control group.

MoTrPAC's other clinical sites include the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Exercise Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh, University of Colorado-Denver, Duke University, Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the University of California-Irvine. Several other institutions will participate as preclinical animal study sites, which will examine molecular changes in tissues not accessible in human participants.

Chemical analysis sites will analyze samples using various genomic, epigenomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic technologies. A consortium coordinating center will manage and implement study protocols, as well as monitor and support the study's steering committee. Stanford University will be home to the program's bioinformatics center, which will develop a user-friendly public resource that enables researchers to access the study's data and results.

Christopher Fry, PhD, assistant professor, and Doug Paddon-Jones, PhD, professor, from UTMB's Department of Nutrition and Metabolism, will serve as the biorespository core and clinical research research core co-leaders, respectively Elena Volpi, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine and director of UTMB's Sealy Center on Aging, will serve as recruitment and retention core co-leader, and Heidi Spratt, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Preventative Medicine and Community Health, is leader of the biostatistics core.

A working group with members from The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering will manage MoTrPAC.

For more information about this project, visit UTMB's Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium. If you are interested in being contacted about future research studies in molecular effects of exercise, please send your name and contact information to Jessica Spahn at, or call Colleen Casey, 409-772-2578.

The NIH Common Fund has committed $170 million to the project through fiscal year 2022. Initiated in 2004, the NIH Common Fund functions "as a 'venture capital' space where high-risk, innovative endeavors with potential for extraordinary impact can be supported," according to the website. Common Fund programs bring together collaborators across a range of fields to work on research projects with the potential to dramatically affect biomedical research over the next decade.

Source: Academic Enterprise