After four intense years of ramping up research protocols and creating a state-of-the-art exercise center, members of Ball State University’s Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) are now working on the first national study designed to better understand how physical activity influences health at molecular level.
Eventually, the project may help develop protocols to help people use exercise to combat disease and aging.
HPL is fully integrated into the 23-university Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC), the largest exercise research program of its kind, aiming to recruit approximately 2,600 research volunteers across the country.
“We know being physically fit provides substantial health benefits, but we don’t know why, especially at the molecular level,” said Scott Trappe, HPL director and a senior author of “Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC): Mapping the Dynamic Responses to Exercise,” the consortium’s first major joint paper.
The large size of the study will provide detailed information on how human bodies respond to exercise while accounting for person-to-person variation and revealing differences based on participant demographics like age, race, and gender.
Researchers within MoTrPAC will measure molecular changes in participants before, during, and after exercise to build a comprehensive map.
“This is really the moonshot for the understanding of how exercise works from a molecular standpoint,” Trappe said. “It is one of the most intense and important projects HPL has participated in since the creation of the lab in the 1960s.”
Trappe noted the grant funding has transformed HPL in the last several years into a unique and comprehensive exercise physiology center where researchers collect data from the whole body to the level of the gene.
He noted that Ball State was selected for this project was because of its long history of groundbreaking research into the effects of exercise on the body.
“Over the last decade, we’ve been involved in several studies, including elite athletes, NIH supported aging studies, and NASA studies involving members of the International Space Station and before that, American astronauts on the space shuttle.”
Trappe said the paper explains the program’s organization and clinical study protocols. The paper will appear on the cover of Cell. Work is being was conducted as part of the MoTrPAC funded by the National Institutes of Health under award number U01AR071133.
HPL researchers, along with master’s and doctoral students, will work with about 400 participants over the next four years. Participants will be drawn from East Central Indiana.
“Starting in the Fall, we will be seeking athletes to come into the lab for testing, then begin to enroll healthy non-exercisers to participate in a specially designed 12-week exercise program,” Trappe said. “We are going to teach people how to properly exercise using our new exercise equipment, which ranges from stationary bikes to resistance machines.”
Sedentary adults and low activity children will be randomly assigned to an inactive control group or to groups that complete a 12-week exercise regimen that gradually increases in intensity. Adults will do either endurance or resistance training, while children will do only endurance training.
When the study is complete, MoTrPAC will deliver a map of the biological molecules and pathways underlying the systemic effects of acute and chronic exercise. The data, which will ultimately be made freely available to the scientific community, will provide unprecedented opportunities to begin to understand the pathways by which physical activity influences health.
In the future, Trappe said the knowledge gained will allow researchers and health professionals to develop personalized exercise recommendations and provide insights into molecular targets that could be manipulated to mimic some of the effects of exercise in people unable to do so.
“So far, this has been an incredible teamwork because the amazing talented people coming together to participate in this study,” he said. “I believe that over the next four years, our understanding of how the body benefits from exercise will increase dramatically – allowing us to better understand how we may improve our health.”