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  • The Historic NIH Common Fund Announcement: Door to Physical Activity Research and Opportunities Swings Open

    by Guest Blogger | Jul 13, 2015
    By Lawrence E. Armstrong, Ph.D., FACSM

    Game-changer. Watershed moment. Key milestone. Turning point. Whatever you may call it, the positive ramifications of the decision cannot be overstated. I’m talking, of course, about last Thursday’s announcement by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that physical activity research is being added to the NIH Common Fund.

    For those unfamiliar with the fund, it encourages collaboration and supports a number of high-impact, trans-NIH programs. These programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH Institute could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research. The NIH Common Fund was enacted by Congress in 2008 to support high priority and the most promising research areas in NIH. The inclusion of physical activity research in the Common Fund is important not only to the science and health communities, but to the elected U.S. leadership as well. It’s extraordinary in its significance for the future of the field.

    Adding physical activity to the Common Fund will have a profound effect and create numerous opportunities for ACSM members. And while the decision to include physical activity research is exciting, the NIH’s long-term commitment is stunning. Over the next five years, NIH will invest $170 million in the physical activity research program - the largest targeted NIH investment of funds into the ways that physical activity improves health and prevents disease. ACSM is committed to keeping members informed about the new physical activity research program and the opportunities it will provide for research funding. At this time, request for applications (RFAs) are expected to be released next month.

    Decisions and financial investments like these don’t happen randomly. Foremost, this reflects the decades of research and scientific discovery to which so many of you have been powerfully and continuously contributing. We also are indebted to our colleagues at the NIH who have worked tirelessly over the past several years to promote this initiative. I am proud that ACSM, the leading sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, also helped lead the way. Our esteemed researchers provided important scientific input to the proposal, and ACSM rallied support among more than 500 individuals and organizations that joined us in signing a letter of support. There were a series of meetings with NIH leaders, demonstrating that ACSM is no stranger to the NIH. Our organization is highly credible and influential, and the acceptance of physical activity into the Common Fund is due, again, to the incredible reputation and trail-blazing efforts of ACSM researchers. Broadly speaking, this new initiative will change the landscape in which we work and ACSM members can be excited about the contribution our organization has made, and will continue to make, moving forward.

    So why this, and why now? ACSM is all about integrating scientific discovery into practice and driving positive outcomes. Because the NIH Common Fund is a gateway for helping our members achieve this mission, pursuing opportunities through the fund is strategically reasonable. Using federal resources to support high-impact research in areas of emerging scientific opportunity such as the biomedical sciences is critical for moving society forward and improving public health. The knowledge that physical activity induces biological responses that are critical to the prevention and treatment of numerous diseases is a fundamental aspect of ACSM’s mission. However, the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying those health benefits are largely unknown. That’s what makes this achievement thrilling. The biomedical discovery potential of a focused effort like this is clear.

    With the NIH announcement behind us, ACSM is already building on this momentum and will continue to play a leadership role to ensure the success of the Common Fund physical activity program. We are looking to make this a uniquely integrated and enduring effort that will sustain the growth and acceleration of physical activity research on a continuous basis, long past the Common Fund designation. This will involve, for instance: the NIH Strategic Plan that will be developed for submission to Congress at the end of this year; and the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Congressional bill that will greatly enhance funding for targeted areas of research. Next on-going steps for our organization include:
    • Continued collaboration with NIH leadership
    • Producing an informational webinar about program goals and benefits
    • Facilitating a network of basic and clinical scientists that will allow ACSM researchers to collaborate on Common Fund physical activity research
    • Developing a grant writing series to provide training and visibility for new investigators
    • Making members aware of Common Fund updates, opportunities to serve as NIH grant reviewers, RFAs and important deadlines
    • An on-going commitment to ensure that the NIH Common Fund priorities are reflected in a collaborative research roadmap, which ACSM will be coordinating
    The future of physical activity research, as well as the health of individuals and communities and nations, is now considerably brighter. Let’s seize this opportunity as leaders in scientific discovery. Carpe diem… and then some!

    You can learn more about the Common Fund announcement by reading the NIH news release.

    Viewpoints presented on the ACSM blog reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

    ACSM President Lawrence E. Armstrong, Ph.D., FACSM, is a professor and director of the Human Performance Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. Much of his research has focused on human fluid-electrolyte balance and effects of dehydration and fluid consumption on physiological responses and physical performance in athletic, firefighting and military contexts. In recent years, he has completed research studies that focused on effects of mild dehydration on cognitive performance and mood in men and women and on hydration status of women across the term of pregnancy and during breastfeeding.

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