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The Future of Exercise May Be in a Pill

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Scientists from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre identified molecular reactions to exercise in the body, which could lead to drug treatments to mirror the health benefits of exercise.

Treatment Breakthrough

According to a publication in Cell Metabolism, the research exposed a thousand molecular changes occurring in muscles when humans exercise. Additionally, the research provided the world’s first comprehensive exercise blueprint, which proves that any drug mimicking exercise will need to target multiple molecules and potentially even pathways—a combination of molecules working together.

While the scientists confess nothing will replace physical exercise in health benefits, this breakthrough could help those individuals who are unable to participate in physical activity.

"Exercise is the most powerful therapy for many human diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders," said David James, head of the research group, professor. "However, for many people, exercise isn't a viable treatment option. This means it is essential we find ways of developing drugs that mimic the benefits of exercise."

Analyzing Muscle Biopsies

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the researchers from the University of Sydney collaborated to analyze human skeletal muscle biopsies from four untrained, healthy males following 10 minutes of high intensity exercise.

To study the process of protein phosphorylation, Benjamin Parker, Ph.D., co-author, used a technique referred to as mass spectrometry and discovered that short, intensive exercise triggers more than 1,000 changes.

"Exercise produces an extremely complex, cascading set of responses within human muscle. It plays an essential role in controlling energy metabolism and insulin sensitivity," said Nolan Hoffman, Ph.D., co-author, Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Science. "While scientists have long suspected that exercise causes a complicated series of changes to human muscle, this is the first time we have been able to map exactly what happens.

“Our data clearly show the complexity of the response: it is not one thing, but rather the drug will have to target multiple things. Our research has provided the roadmap to figure this out.” 

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