Wu Tsai

Optimizing performance for the human race
by: lewis taylor

Much of what we know about human health comes from the study of diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and brain disorders. The Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance takes the opposite approach, studying peak performance — from the molecular level to the whole body — with the goal of enabling all people to achieve optimal health and well-being.

“It doesn’t matter whether you're an elite athlete, a developing athlete, an aging athlete, or anyone who wants to function at their best throughout their life … what we really want is for people to live longer, healthier and better lives,” said Robert Guldberg, UO, director of the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance at Oregon and vice president and the Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

The University of Oregon — with its long history of innovation in both science and athletics — is a founding member in the alliance, which was made possible by a generous gift from the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation. Based at Stanford University and made up of six institutions, the alliance is trailblazing new possibilities through comprehensive research involving athletes of various ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, and disciplines.

Alliance researchers are maximizing the impact of their work by freely distributing their findings — speeding the transformation of discoveries into new treatments, technologies and training protocols.

The Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance at Oregon is centered in the Knight Campus but involves investigators from across the UO. With its emphasis on fast-tracking scientific discoveries into innovations that improve the quality of life, the Knight Campus was designed to catalyze new research opportunities like those presented through the alliance.

The alliance at Oregon is funding more than a dozen research projects, including the following examples.


A wearable sensor that’s powerful and imperceptible

The alliance is an interdisciplinary network involving scientists, clinicians, engineers, coaches, athletes, performers and professionals in a wide array of fields from across the global community. A project from Susan Sokolowski, professor and director of the UO’s Sports Product Design Program, and second-year master’s student Gabi Lorenzo, leverages new technology developed by Knight Campus professor Keat Ghee Ong, Bowerman Sports Science Center Director Mike Hahn  and postdoctoral scholar Michael McGeehan. The project involves the integration of a sensor with the potential to prevent injury and improve performance into a shoe midsole.

“We're excited about how this technology could benefit, not only female athletes, but also be a great help to biomechanists and researchers and sports product design companies as they look to better see how footwear can benefit and impact athletes.”
Gabi Lorenzo, master's student, Sports Product Design
running shoe renderings




Predicting and preventing muscle injury in female athletes

A key goal of the alliance is to enable people from all backgrounds to achieve health and well-being. This includes translational research efforts to answer fundamental physiological questions important for improving the health and performance of girls and women. A project from the lab of Damien Callahan, a professor in the Department of Human Physiology, examines the role of proteins contributing to the structure and function of skeletal muscle, with the goal of predicting muscle tissue injury in female athletes.

“The unanswered question is why female athletes are at a five to seven times greater risk of of soft tissue injury — ACL tears, muscle tears, tendon strains — than their male counterparts. We suspect that there are biological, sex-related differences in how fatigue alters stiffness in the muscle tissue, how much it stretches when a load is placed on it.”
Damien Callahan, professor, Department of Human Physiology




Better rehabilitation, without the hardware

Regenerative rehabilitation is one area of research emphasis for the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance. Nick Willett, an associate professor in the Knight Campus, is leading the initiative to help athletes and the general public recover from injuries more quickly and effectively. He says well-worn methods of treating injuries with metal screws and pins are being supplanted by groundbreaking approaches to training, treatment, and data analytics that have the potential to promote tissue regeneration and help pave the way to better healing.

“The goal really is to improve human performance, both at an elite level, like the athletes that will be at the World Championships, and at a community level.”
Nick Willett, Knight Campus associate professor / Alliance at Oregon associate director



Perpetuating performance research into the next decade

The Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation has pledged a total of $220 million over ten years to the six institutions in the alliance. UO donors — including Kendra and Ken Singer and Terri and Jon Anderson — have established an endowment that will support the UO’s contribution to the alliance, perpetuating this research and its impact on human health beyond the first decade.