2020 FPTR Fellowship to Address Effects of Aerobic Exercise on FSHD

Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD) causes muscle weakness and atrophy in the face, shoulder, and upper arms. Typically, FSHD progresses slowly. The disease affects an estimated one in 20,000 people. Quality of life can be greatly impaired for those living with this inherited condition.

Research shows that aerobic exercise improves function in similar diseases. Few studies have looked at the effects of exercise for those with FSHD. Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR) awardee, Adam J. Bittel, PT, DPT, PhD, is bridging this knowledge gap. Bittel was awarded the $100,000 New Investigator Training Initiative (NIFTI) to work towards this goal.

“Our research aims to understand if the response to exercise is similar in FSHD and healthy muscle, and to determine if underlying pathological features of FSHD interfere with healthy exercise adaptations,” said Bittel. “We anticipate that this will provide the foundational insight needed to begin developing targeted exercise recommendations for this clinical population.”

“Physical therapists play a central role in the life-long treatment of inherited neuromuscular diseases,” says Bittel. “Often, these treatments are complicated by the poorly understood interaction between environmental factors, like physical activity, genetic/epigenetic background, and the molecular transducers of these diseases. Understanding these interactions can lead to improved clinical outcomes.”

The 2020 NIFTI is one of 12 recent FPTR awards. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Scholarship Fund makes this award possible. FPTR funding provides protected time for emerging researchers as they begin their careers. Since 1979, FPTR has awarded more than $19 million in grants, scholarships, and fellowships to more than 640 promising researchers like Bittel.

“The NIFTI provides unparalleled support for physical therapists aiming to advance their ongoing research, to prepare for the next step in their careers, and to make meaningful contributions to the rapidly growing scope of physical therapist practice,” said Bittel.

Bittel is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National Medical Center. He received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Utica College in 2013, and a PhD in Movement Science from Washington University in St. Louis in 2018. Bittel was previously awarded a 2016 Promotion of Doctoral Studies II Scholarship.

Select Foundation Grants and Scholarships Awarded



  • Bittel, Adam; Sreetama, Sen; Bittel, Daniel; Horn, Adam; Novak, James; Yokota, Toshifumi; Zhang, Aiping; Maruyama, Rika; Lim, Kenji Rowel; Jaiswal, Jyoti; Chen, Yi-Wen. (2020). Membrane Repair Deficit in Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 21. 5575. 10.3390/ijms21155575.

  • Bittel A,  Bittel D,  Mittendorfer B, Patterson B, Okunade A, Yoshino J, Porter L, Abumrad N, Reeds D, Cade W. (2019). A single bout of resistance exercise improves postprandial lipid metabolism in overweight/obese men with prediabetes. Diabetologia. 63. 10.1007/s00125-019-05070-x.

  • Cade W, Laforest R, Bohnert K, Reeds D, Bittel A, Fuentes L, Bashir A, Woodard P, Pacak C, Byrne B, Gropler R, Peterson L. (2019). Myocardial glucose and fatty acid metabolism is altered and associated with lower cardiac function in young adults with Barth syndrome. Journal of Nuclear Cardiology. 10.1007/s12350-019-01933-3.