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UCI team to play key role in national study on how physical activity benefits child health

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

Irvine, Calif., Dec. 13, 2016 — With the support of a major National Institutes of Health initiative, University of California, Irvine pediatric researchers will lead an effort to study the molecular changes that occur in the body in response to exercise training in order to advance our understanding of how physical activity improves and preserves health in children.

Shlomit Radom-Aizik directs the Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center. Courtesy of PERC

Shlomit Radom-Aizik directs the Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center. Courtesy of PERC

Shlomit Radom-Aizik, executive director of the UCI Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center, and Dr. Dan Cooper, PERC’s founding director, will head a clinical center in the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans program, which is the largest targeted NIH investment of funds into 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. The UCI team will receive $4.5 million.

Dr. Dan Cooper is founding director of UCI’s Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center and associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational science. Steve Zylius / UCI

Dr. Dan Cooper is founding director of UCI’s Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center and associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational science.
Steve Zylius / UCI

“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 UCI 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, and 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.

Scientists and clinicians increasingly recognize that physical activity early in life is an essential component of health, growth and development, and there are critical periods when exercise can lead to long-term health benefits. When the PERC 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 the Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center: Founded in 2006 as the Pediatric Exercise Research Center, 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, UCI 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, UCI 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 on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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