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Tracy to Play Role in NIH Study of Molecular Changes during Physical Activity

Russell Tracy, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Science, Larner College of Medicine at UVM (Photo: LCOM Design & Photography)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund has announced the first awards for its Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans Program, which will allow researchers to develop a comprehensive map of the molecular changes that occur in response to physical activity and uncover findings that could lead to people engaging in more targeted and optimized types of activity.

Nineteen grants totaling approximately $170 million through fiscal year 2022 (pending availability of funds) will support researchers across the country – including Russell Tracy, Ph.D., of the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. The awardees will work as a consortium to develop plans for recruitment into clinical trials, identification of methods to analyze tissue samples, and selection of animal models to best replicate human studies. Animal models will allow researchers to search for changes in tissues not easily accessible in human patients, such as the brain, lungs, and kidneys. 

“We have long understood that exercising is beneficial to our overall health, but don't fully understand the impact of exercise at the molecular level,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in a press release issued by the NIH on December 13, 2016. “The development of a so-called molecular map of circulating signals produced by physical activity will allow us to discover, at a fundamental level, how physical activity affects our health. This knowledge should allow researchers and doctors to develop individually targeted exercise recommendations and better help those who are unable to exercise.” (Learn more about the MoTrPAC program in this video interview from Dr. Collins.)

Seven clinical centers across the country (six for adult participants, and one for those younger than 18 years of age) will recruit people from diverse racial and ethnic groups beginning in 2018. They will examine how molecular signals are altered following changes in exercise patterns. (Find more information about the sites.)

In addition to the clinical trial sites, the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC) will include seven chemical analysis sites, three awards to conduct physical activity studies in animal models, a bioinformatics center to disseminate data and tools to the entire research community, and a coordination center to harmonize activities across the Consortium. The program will also provide funding to store data 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.

Tracy and his Vermont team will be supported by roughly $1.2 million in funding from the Consortium’s Coordinating Center’s $10 million award over the project period. In collaboration with the Coordinating Center, Tracy’s lab at UVM will work with MoTrPAC investigators and the analytical sites to standardize biological specimen collection methods; ensure the protocols are written in a standardized manner; oversee the collection of the biological specimens; develop quality control procedures; receive the biological specimens and store them in state-of-the-art ultracold freezers and liquid nitrogen tanks; help develop ancillary study procedures and methods. His group will then distribute these biological specimens to the MoTrPAC investigators, as well as other investigators who wish to conduct studies related to this large-scale exploration of the biochemical effects of exercise.

“This is an unprecedented large-scale effort to begin to explore – in extreme detail – the biochemical, physiological and clinical impact of exercise,” said Tracy, who is a professor of pathology and laboratory science and biochemistry. “I’m pleased and honored that our lab at UVM was chosen to be the MoTrPAC Biorepository, and anticipate that the MoTrPAC ‘maps,’ when coupled with the carefully collected biosamples, will prove enormously useful over the next decade or more of additional studies.”

MoTrPAC is funded through the NIH Common Fund and managed by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute on Aging, and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Awards are made using the NIH Cooperative Agreement mechanism which allows for substantial scientific interaction between the NIH and awardees.

About the NIH Common Fund
The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH 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. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about the NIH and its programs, visit

(This article was adapted from a press release produced by the NIH Common Fund.)