UC Irvine team to play key role in national study on how physical activity benefits health

Identifying exercise-driven molecular changes could enhance long-term well-being

December 13, 2016
The UCI Health Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center works with children and teens to learn the effects of exercise on health.
The UCI Health Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center works with children and teens to learn the long-term effects of exercise on child health. View a video about PERC's research and training efforts ›

With the support of a major National Institutes of Health initiative, UC Irvine pediatric researchers will lead an effort to study molecular changes that occur in the body in response to exercise training in order to advance understanding of how physical activity improves and preserves health in children.

Shlomit Radom-Aizik, PhD, executive director of the UCI Health Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center (PERC), and pediatrician Dan Cooper, MD, PERC’s founding director, will head a clinical center in the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans program (MoTrPAC), which is NIH's largest investment of funds targeted at identifying the mechanisms behind exercise’s ability to enhance health and prevent disease.

Overall, the MoTrPAC program will award 19 grants for about $170 million to researchers across the country for the collection of blood samples from people of different races, ethnic groups, sexes, ages and fitness levels. PERC — which is focused on treatment, training and research on the relationship between child health and physical activity — will receive $4.5 million.

Discovering the biochemical basis of exercise

“For years, we have known that exercise is important for a healthy, developing body, but we haven’t fully understood the biochemical mechanisms responsible for this,” said Cooper, who is also associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational science and director of the UC Irvine Institute for Clinical & Translational Science.

“This program — which will include clinical centers, analysis sites, preclinical animal study sites and a bioinformatics center — will provide the most detailed information yet that can allow us to ‘prescribe’ the best form and amount of exercise most beneficial to each child. The new discoveries from MoTrPAC can then be used to improve how we use exercise to benefit children and adults with chronic diseases or conditions, including cancer, lung ailments and heart failure.”

In their study, PERC researchers will partner with the Orange County Department of Education to enroll as many as 360 children between the ages of 11 and 17. They will be evaluated for their fitness and body composition. One group will be put on a supervised resistance and aerobic training regimen. Blood samples will be taken before and after an intense bout of exercise and again an hour later. These specimens will then be sent to analysis sites where blood proteins, metabolites and white blood cell genomic and epigenetic responses will be examined to see what changes occurred.

Cooper said the results of these analyses will be translated into proposed personalized exercise “prescriptions” to foster optimal well-being.

Early physical activity essential to health

Scientists and clinicians increasingly recognize that physical activity early in life is an essential component of health, growth and development, and that there are critical periods when exercise can lead to long-term health benefits. When PERC's findings are combined with data from six other clinical centers focusing on adults, researchers should be able to identify the mechanisms through which physical activity in childhood can enhance health across the lifespan.

“The 11-to-17 age range is one of the most significant growth and development periods in a human life,” Radom-Aizik said. “Proper exercise triggers biochemical mechanisms that activate anti-inflammatory cells and important growth factors. These responses may help prevent heart and vascular disease and aid in the mineralization of growing bones, which can delay osteoporosis in middle and old age. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of exercise can also open the door to understanding the positive influence of physical activity on immune diseases such as asthma and arthritis, which are prevalent in obese children.”

Financial support for the MoTrPAC program comes from the NIH’s Common Fund — a special resource under the authority of the NIH director for research that involves a wide range of scientific disciplines and clinical impact.

About PERC: Founded in 2006 as the Pediatric Exercise Research Center with the UC Irvine School of Medicine, PERC has pioneered research on unleashing the healing power of exercise. Over the past 10 years, it has shed light on the full benefits of physical activity. At any one time, PERC hosts 15 to 20 studies of how — and how much — exercise works to avert Type 2 diabetes, limit asthma attacks, thwart arthritis, prevent cancer, encourage mineralization in growing bones and improve the quality of life for kids with chronic diseases and congenital disorders.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UC Irvine is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, the university has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more about UC Irvine, visit www.uci.edu

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