How Scientists Plan to Illuminate Exercise’s Impact at the Molecular Level

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Massive Datasets, Complex Array of Biospecimen Analyses Will Drive NIH’s Largest Physical Activity Study of Its Kind
Released: Tuesday, June 23, 2020

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — A new paper in the journal Cell details the extraordinary collaboration and data analysis involved in a National Institutes of Health study to detail the molecular mechanisms that explain exercise’s health and anti-aging benefits.

“Everyone knows about the health benefits of regular exercise and how it delays the effects of aging. Unfortunately, we still don’t understand the exact mechanisms leading to these benefits,” said Eric Ravussin, PhD, Associate Executive Director for Clinical Science at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center and one of the clinical Principal Investigators of the study. “It is only in the last few years that an explosion of new methods and technologies have made it possible to achieve one of the major goals of the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium: generating a molecular map of exercise.”

MoTrPAC scientists are collecting blood, fat and muscle samples before, during and after exercise from 2,600 volunteers spread across 11 clinical sites nationwide. Pennington Biomedical is enrolling approximately 300 of those volunteers. Researchers will use a complex array of molecular assays to generate data on exercise-responsive biomolecules like genes, indicators of gene activity, proteins, molecules involved in metabolism, and molecular signals in cell-to-cell communication.

The study will examine the impact of endurance and resistance exercise across volunteers who are either sedentary or highly active, and whose ages range from 10 to over 60. The size of the study will account for variations from person to person while revealing differences based on participant demographics like age, race, and gender.

The data generated by MoTrPAC will be huge and complex, but the consortium aims to make the data widely available to the biomedical research community. The community will bring more new ideas, perspectives, and questions to the topic of the health benefits of exercise than MoTrPAC researchers could generate alone.

Ultimately, MoTrPAC aims to have a positive impact on human health. The information MoTrPAC assembles will lay the foundation for a new era of biomedical research on Precision Exercise Medicine.

“One day, a doctor may be able to prescribe a personalized exercise routine based on what is likely to create the best outcome for an individual,” Dr. Ravussin said. “Other researchers may use the data to identify drugs that mimic the molecular signals of exercise, so-called exercise-mimetics, which could help people who are unable to exercise.”

Some data from an early phase of the study are available through the MoTrPAC data hub, and more are expected soon. But for now, MoTrPAC recruiting has been temporarily paused by COVID-19. Pennington Biomedical enrolled 51 participants before the COVID-19 pause. The research center will resume recruiting in July and expects to recruit an additional 250 volunteers.

For more information on MoTrPAC, and how you can participate, click here, call (225) 763-3000, or watch a video here. Click here for the Cell article.

Pennington Biomedical’s MoTrPAC research is supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health through award U01AR071160.



About LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center

LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The center conducts basic, clinical and population research, and is affiliated with Louisiana State University. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 450 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.