Working out the molecules

UTMB researchers to study molecular changes during physical activity

Working out the molecules

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The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has received a $6.6 million grant to take part in a national project that will analyze what molecular changes occur in people as a result of physical activity. The research could lead to people engaging in more targeted and optimized types of physical activity.

UTMB will be a part of the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium and Blake Rasmussen, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Metabolism, will be the principal investigator.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund, the consortium will allow researchers to develop a comprehensive map of the molecular changes after they collect and study samples from people of different races, ethnic groups, sex, ages and fitness levels. The NIH has committed $170 million to the project through fiscal year 2022.

It is well known that exercise can improve physical health, but previous research usually focused at an activity’s impact on a specific system such as respiratory health. Consortium researchers, such as Rasmussen, will be looking at the impact on the body at the molecular level.

“There is the potential for major discoveries and significant breakthroughs to be identified from the work of the consortium,” says Rasmussen. “We strongly believe that a molecular map to help us understand how physical activity contributes to better health will be of great benefit.”

UTMB is one of seven clinical centers participating in the consortium that will recruit participants and conduct research for the study.

Data from the program will be stored 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.

In addition to being funded through the NIH Common Fund, the program will be managed by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, National Institute on Aging and National institute of Biomedical imaging and Bioengineering.

The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact 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.

“This is especially important work in an area where UTMB is already recognized as a leader nationally and internationally,” said David Niesel, chief research officer, vice president and dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “UTMB’s work with the consortium will enhance our basic understanding of the role of physical exercise on human health and how we approach clinical disease.”

UTMB and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio are teaming up in Texas to conduct the study.

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