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UC Irvine will receive $4.5 million for a six-year study of the impact of exercise on children to examine how their genes respond, with the goal of developing personalized prescriptions for movement, the National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday.
"We have long understood that exercising is beneficial to our overall health, but don't fully understand the impact of exercise at the molecular lev el," NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in a news release. He added, "This knowledge should allow researchers and doctors to develop individually targeted exercise recommendations."
The work at UCI will be led by Dr. Dan Cooper, a pediatric obesity researcher, and Shlomit Radom-Aizik, executive director of the UCI Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center. Next year, they plan to begin recruiting about 300 healthy children, ages 11-17, for the study.
The children first will ride an exercise bike and then have their blood tested to examine proteins, metabolites and the responses of sets of genes in the immune system, as well as the factors that control how genes are expressed. Then the children will undergo a supervised training program three or four days a week, for up to 12 weeks. Their blood will be tested again afterward.
"What's really remarkable is this is kind of like the Human Genome Project but of exercise," Cooper said.
During childhood, the body is primed for growth and responds to exercise by building bone mass, something that is much harder to achieve as an adult, Cooper said.
"We think we're going to uncover those mechanisms that occur during childhood that optimize your ability to have a healthy response to exercise," Cooper said. "There are times during growth and development where exercise and training have a molecular blueprint that lasts the whole life span."
In a video on the NIH website, Collins said the research, which also will be done with adult subjects at six other academic centers, will look at what molecular messages are being sent from one part of the body to another. He said newly available technology will allow researchers to see what proteins and molecules are released during exercise.
Radom-Aizik said while doctors recommend exercise, the guidelines aren't based on any rigorous evidence and they are not individually customized.
"We want to know exactly how much, when and which mode of exercise would benefit us the most," she said. "For children, it might be that it's age-dependent; it might be that it's gender-dependent."
The children will be recruited through schools and health facilities, Cooper said.
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