Human Performance

A core research theme in Ashley Lab is the study of clinical, molecular and genomic aspects of physical activity and fitness.

The ELITE Study

Photo: Nils Ericson

As part of the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, we aim to uncover the mechanistic underpinnings of human performance. One hallmark project involves studying the genomics of the fittest humans on the planet — The ELITE Study (Exercise at the Limit – Inherited Traits of Endurance). Eligibility is limited to lifetime VO2max thresholds only attainable by less than 1 in 10,000 people (females:55, males:65 ml/kg/min). The overarching hypothesis is that by studying the extreme of human performance, we can uncover mechanisms and therapeutic targets for the treatment of cardiovascular, pulmonary, neuromuscular and metabolic disease. These candidate variations with large effect are assumed to be very rare. As the study matures we are broadening our inclusion to better capture diverse ancestry and local adaptations such as to high altitude. Moreover, we are increasing the number of traits to better capture alternative subsets of extreme athletic physiology. Please take a look at our ELITE website if you are interested in participating.

Within the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, we are also studying how muscles of athletes respond to contrasting exercise bouts (resistance and endurance) at the single-nucleus level. To further optimize exercise programs, we are investigating the differences in adaptation to endurance and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

My Heart Counts

We are also working with large population cohorts such as the UK Biobank, the Million Veterans Program, and Cooper Institute that measure fitness, physical activity, genetics, and health outcomes. Our own ResearchKit app My Heart Counts has collected activity signatures on over 50,000 subjects and fitness estimates based on 6 minute walk test in over 5,000 individuals. Through integration with 23andMe we are better able to translate some of these genetic insights into clinical care and population health.

Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium

Photo: Nils Ericson

Our group also acts as the Bioinformatics Center for the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC) – a $170M, NIH-funded project aimed at building the molecular map of physical activity. The consortium includes six clinical sites, seven preclinical animal sites, seven chemical analysis sites (for multiomics), a three site coordinating center, and a single Bioinformatics center. As the Bioinformatics center, we coordinate the integration, dissemination, and analysis of high dimensional physiological, mobile health, and molecular phenotyping data.