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 CU Researcher to Lead National Study of Physical Activity

CU School of Medicine


AURORA, Colo. – The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus will be one of seven clinical centers nationwide to participate in an initiative of the National Institutes of Health to improve understanding of molecular changes during physical activity. 

In addition, Wendy M. Kohrt, PhD, professor of medicine at the CU School of Medicine and the Nancy Anschutz Endowed Chair in Women’s Health Research, has been named to be the inaugural chair of the national steering committee that will guide the effort. Dr. Kohrt, who will be the principal investigator on the grant establishing the clinical center at CU, is a leading researcher in exercise science with a focus on geriatrics. She serves a director of research in the division of geriatric medicine and the Center on Aging at the School of Medicine.   

The National Institutes of Health Common Fund announced today 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. 

In total, 19 grants will support researchers across the country to collect samples from people of different races, ethnic groups, sex, ages, and fitness levels. The samples will be analyzed to uncover how physical activity changes the chemical molecules within our bodies, which could lead to people engaging in more targeted and optimized types of activity.

 These awards total approximately $170 million through fiscal year 2022. 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. The animal models will allow researchers to search for changes in tissues not easily accessible in human patients, such as the brain, lungs, and kidneys. 

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. Information about the sites is available at   

In announcing the awards, National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, said: “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. 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.” 

To learn more about the program, the NIH posted a video interview from Dr. Collins.