UAB Opens State-of-Art Facility for Clinical Trials of Exercise Medicine

Marcas Bamman, PhD works with an exercise participant.

The Center for Exercise Medicine at UAB opened its state-of-the-art exercise facility in February. The Exercise Clinical Trial Facility provides equipment and staff for research projects looking at the role of exercise as medicine.

"We have developed a much greater appreciation of the role of exercise in human health," said Marcas Bamman, PhD, professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology and the director of the Center for Exercise Medicine. "This is not about exercise for weight loss or simply feeling better; rather, we are striving to understand the role of exercise as medicine at the molecular, cellular and clinical levels."

The facility includes an exercise training zone with 24 resistance exercise stations, Olympic barbells, dumbbells and more than 2,000 pounds of free weights. It also features seven stationary cycle ergometers, nine treadmills and two rowing machines.

A cardiorespiratory function laboratory offers 12-lead ECG graded exercise stress testing, aerobic and anaerobic power measurement, and cardiorespiratory and metabolic demand tests during submaximal exercise such as walking, running, cycling or stair climbing.

A neuromuscular function laboratory allows for the study of joint kinematics and kinetics, strength and force measurements, muscle fatigue testing, and muscle activation, as well as balance and gait analysis.

"It's not enough to simply tell someone they should exercise more," Bamman said. "We need to be able to present precise exercise prescriptions to patients that include evidence-based dosing -- frequency, intensity and type of exercise -- that will be most effective in helping that patient improve health. This facility will provide the infrastructure to help us determine the optimal exercise prescription for a 70-year-old woman with osteoporosis versus a 30-year-old man with a traumatic brain injury."

"The facility has all of the equipment, but also experts with all of the knowledge to help patients reach their exercise goal, whatever their conditions," said Lou Dell'Italia, MD, professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease, Department of Medicine. "Bamman has attracted some of the best young physiologists to UAB, who are driven to provide an exercise prescription based on the patient's capabilities."

Bamman proposed the creation of the Center for Exercise Medicine within the School of Medicine in 2010. Following approval from the University of Alabama Board of Trustees in 2011, UAB became one of the first major academic medical centers to establish a center devoted to understanding the benefits of exercise. In addition to conducting its own research, the center has rapidly become a national powerhouse in exercise medicine and serves as a resource frequently tapped by other institutions.

"We are excited about the tremendous strides the UCEM has made since its founding at UAB seven years ago," said UAB President Ray Watts.

The Center for Exercise Medicine manages two national networks devoted to exercise medicine. One is the National Institutes of Health¬¬-funded Medical Rehabilitation Research Resource Network, the MR3 Network, working to foster advances in medical rehabilitation research. UAB's REACT Center -- Rehabilitation Research Resource to Enhance Clinical Trials, is one of six partner centers making up the MR3 Network, and serves as the network's coordinating center.

The center also founded and maintains NExTNet, the National Exercise Clinical Trials Network. NExTNet is a 70-member consortium of institutions involved in exercise research. Member institutions are looking at exercise in the context of nearly every major disease or condition, from heart disease and diabetes to aging and cancer.

Several active clinical trials are underway using the facility, including the MASTERS trial looking at improving muscle mass in seniors and the TWEAK trial for patients facing hip or knee replacement. The PHITE, or Precision High Intensity Training Through Epigenetics study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, is working to identify biomarkers to determine ideal training regimens for battle readiness. Other ongoing research includes clinical trials on Parkinson's disease, a pilot study examining exercise in treating epilepsy and an observational study on ALS.

In addition, the UCEM research team and facility will serve as a clinical center for the recently announced National Institutes of Health Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, or MoTrPAC, to explore molecular changes that occur during and after exercise. UAB and its two partners -- the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes in Orlando, Florida, and Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana -- will receive a projected $6.6 million over six years, as part of the nearly $170 million MoTrPAC initiative involving researchers across the United States.


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