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New NIH Awards Aim to Understand Molecular Changes During Physical Activity

Dec 14, 2016

The National Institutes of Health Common Fund announced today the first awards for its Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans Program, which will allow researchers to develop a comprehensive map of the molecular changes that occur in response to physical activity. Nineteen grants will support researchers across the country to collect samples from people of different races, ethnic groups, sex, ages, and fitness levels. The samples will be analyzed to uncover how physical activity changes the chemical molecules within our bodies, which could lead to people engaging in more targeted and optimized types of activity.

“We have long understood that exercising is beneficial to our overall health, but don’t fully understand the impact of exercise at the molecular level,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “The development of a so-called molecular map of circulating signals produced by physical activity will allow us to discover, at a fundamental level, how physical activity affects our health. This knowledge should allow researchers and doctors to develop individually targeted exercise recommendations and better help those who are unable to exercise.” Learn more about the MoTrPAC program in this video interview from Dr. Collins.  

These awards total approximately $170 million through fiscal year 2022. The awardees will work as a consortium to develop plans for recruitment into clinical trials, identification of methods to analyze tissue samples, and selection of animal models to best replicate human studies. The animal models will allow researchers to search for changes in tissues not easily accessible in human patients, such as the brain, lungs, and kidneys. 

Seven clinical centers across the country (six for adult participants, and one for those younger than 18 years of age) will recruit people from diverse racial and ethnic groups beginning in 2018. They will examine how molecular signals are altered following changes in exercise patterns. Information about the sites is available at commonfund.nih.gov/MolecularTransducers/overview.  

In addition to the clinical trial sites, the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC) will include seven chemical analysis sites, three awards to conduct physical activity studies in animal models, a bioinformatics center to disseminate data and tools to the entire research community, and a coordination center to harmonize activities across the Consortium.

The program will also provide funding to store data in a user-friendly public resource that any researcher can access to investigate the molecular mechanisms through which physical activity can improve or preserve health.

“This physical activity initiative aims to fundamentally change our understanding of what happens to the body on the molecular level when we exercise,” said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the NIH Common Fund.  “The Common Fund is in a unique position to bring together scientists from diverse fields to discover and interpret changes that occur in people in response to exercise.”

MoTrPAC is funded through the NIH Common Fund and managed by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute on Aging, and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Awards are made using the NIH Cooperative Agreement mechanism which allows for substantial scientific interaction between the NIH and awardees.

The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH institute could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at http://commonfund.nih.gov.