Research News

Team from Department of Kinesiology to lead ‘Human Exercise’ UW2020 project

April 07, 2016

A team of researchers with the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology is receiving funding through a new initiative designed to jump-start innovative interdisciplinary projects across the UW-Madison campus.

Led by principal investigator Gary Diffee, the project is titled, “Human Exercise Research Core Facility to Serve the Broader Campus.” This initiative is one of just 14 highly innovative research projects that were chosen from 134 submitted proposals for the first round of funding by the UW-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education for the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative.

Other co-investigators on the ‘Human Exercise Research Core Facility’ project include: Dorothy Farrar‐Edwards, Professor and Chair with the Department of Kinesiology; Dane Cook, professor with the Department of Kinesiology; Bill Schrage, professor with the Department of Kinesiology; Jill Barnes, assistant professor with the Department of Kinesiology; Barbara Bowers, an associate dean for research, the Charlotte Jane and Ralph A. Rodefer Chair, and Helen Denne Schulte Professor with the School of Nursing; and Randall Gretebeck, an associate clinical professor with the School of Nursing.

Gary Diffee
"Physical inactivity is a primary cause of many chronic diseases, with some estimates indicating that lack of physical activity is responsible for over 5 million deaths per year worldwide," says Diffee, the Virginia H. Marsh Professor of Kinesiology. "Due to the rising biomedical and social costs associated with a sedentary lifestyle, the National Institutes of Health has recently highlighted the need for better understanding of the impact that exercise has on a variety of aspects of physical and mental health. We believe that the establishment of this core facility represents a transformative improvement in the ability to conduct exercise- and metabolism-related research on this campus in this increasingly important area of research."

Currently, research involving nutrition, exercise or physical activity is scattered among a number of labs and clinics on the UW-Madison campus. The breadth, depth and impact of this research is limited by the lack of a centralized facility where researchers can conduct exercise-related studies and interact with each other regarding the wide array of variables that are affected by physical activity. The Human Exercise Research Core Facility will be a comprehensive, multidisciplinary core that facilitates research in this growing area of need.

"A key strength of this core facility is the way it will bring researchers together in an outstanding collaborative environment," says Diffee. "This flows both from the nature of the proposal, which is an exceptional partnership between the School of Nursing and the Department of Kinesiology, as well as from the broad support from across campus for the creation of this core facility. Kinesiology and Nursing both bring unique strengths to the creation of this facility, and are both committed to building on this collaboration as we develop this facility into a significant asset for the campus."

Exercise lab
Anna Howery (left), a research specialist in the Bruno Balke
Biodynamics Lab led by Department of Kinesiology
Assistant Professor Jill Barnes, conducts testing with Lauren
Walker (right), who is a senior kinesiology practicum
student working in the lab.
The facility will provide a centralized space for measuring several aspects of exercise capacity and physical function. It will provide equipment to measure such factors as exercise capacity, exercise metabolism, muscle function and body composition and, for investigators new to this type of research, it will provide expertise in experiments related to exercise and cognition, metabolism, and cardiopulmonary function. The core will boost funding potential, catalyze collaborative initiatives, and enhance research impact for a diverse array of researchers on campus. At the same time it will open new avenues for innovative research and collaborations in this area.

"Researchers from across campus, representing over 10 different schools, centers or departments, indicated the urgent need for such a facility on campus to support exercise-related research in a wide range of disciplines -– from psychological to biomechanical aspects of exercise -- and a wide range of  human populations -- from children to older adults," explains Diffee.

Underwritten by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), UW2020 will support selected projects with an average award of about $300,000 over two years. Included in the allocation for most research projects will be support from the UW–Madison Graduate School to cover a graduate student assistantship.

“We have been inspired by the research ideas that have been put forward,” says Marsha Mailick, UW–Madison vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “The goal of UW2020 is to support projects that could ultimately transform a field, solve a long-standing problem, contribute to social policy or launch a key new technology. We think we’re off to a fantastic start.”

WARF is providing $5 million in support of the first year of the UW2020 initiative. In addition to the first round of 134 proposals, a second round of nearly 120 projects have been submitted and are under review.

“We are very excited about the potential of UW2020,” notes WARF Managing Director Carl Gulbrandsen. “We think the university has identified projects that are truly innovative and forward-looking in terms of addressing big research challenges. That was the idea when the program was laid out.”

The projects span the disciplines, with successful proposals ranging from studies of the increasingly complex makeup of the modern family to the creation of an atlas of the metabolic pathways of Alzheimer’s disease.

The projects were reviewed by faculty from across the university, ultimately involving 87 reviewers. Funded projects include 72 faculty and academic staff investigators from eight schools and colleges. Final selections were made by the UW2020 Council, a group of 16 faculty from all divisions of the university. They evaluated the merits of each project based on the reviews and their potential for making significant contributions.

“By providing support to these projects, we think we can seed our research portfolio in important ways and position UW–Madison faculty and research staff for future success,” says Mailick.

To learn about all of the first group of UW2020 research and infrastructure/equipment projects check out this University Communications news story.