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Miriam Hospital researcher receives more than $12 million to study weight control

PROVIDENCE, RI The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center (WCDRC) recently received six research grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling more than $12 million in funding that will support the work of researchers focused on the prevention and treatment of obesity.

Rena R. Wing, PhD, director of the WCDRC and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, is the principal investigator on these grants.

Funding for three of the grants was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), including a highly competitive NIH Challenge Grant. Only 200 NIH Challenge Grants were awarded to researchers nationwide out of approximately 20,000 applications.

"Obesity continues to be the number one health risk facing Americans, and the health consequences and financial burden of this epidemic are devastating," Wing said. "We are grateful for the support our team has received, which will help strengthen and build on our research programs to develop and study innovative obesity prevention and treatment strategies."

The largest grant nearly $6 million over five years was awarded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to compare two behavioral interventions to prevent weight gain in young adults. According to Wing, young adults experience the greatest rate of weight gain approximately one to two pounds per year putting them at increased risk for weight-related health problems, such as heart disease.

"We know it gets harder to lose the weight as you get older, so preventing weight gain during young adulthood is critical to curbing the obesity epidemic," added Wing.

The goal of Wing's two-year, $930,320 NIH challenge grant, also funded through NHLBI, is to develop and test an innovative Internet-based program to improve patient adherence to behavioral weight loss regimens. Based on the findings of previous Miriam research studies, this program will use interactive, multimedia technology to capture several of the critical elements of effective behavioral weight loss programs. If the program is successful, it would provide a critical resource for physicians to use with their patients.

Federal funding will also support the following new studies:

Can increased sleep help with weight control?

This study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, will look at the parallels between the current epidemics of obesity and short sleep duration. Although epidemiological studies have documented a link between the two, there have been no intervention studies to date examining the impact of changes in sleep duration on changes in body weight. This study would develop an intervention to increase sleep duration and to determine whether increasing sleep alone, or in combination with a weight loss program, can have positive effects on eating, exercise and ultimately weight control.

Lifestyle intervention to treat erectile dysfunction

This ARRA-funded study will support the development of a National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) multi-center clinical trial to study the connection between erectile dysfunction (ED) and lifestyle interventions, such as weight loss and increased physical activity. ED affects approximately 30 million men in the United States and can be an early warning sign for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Recent studies suggest that lifestyle interventions may offer a promising approach that could improve ED as well as reduce CVD risk. Miriam researchers will develop a proposal for a full-scale clinical trial to determine whether an intensive lifestyle intervention results in greater improvement in ED.

The Look AHEAD continuation: Impact of weight loss intervention on Type 2 diabetes

This NIDDK grant, funded by ARRA, will provide supplementary funding for Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) to enhance retention and expand the outcome measures in this trial. Look AHEAD is a randomized, multi-site clinical trial examining whether weight loss achieved through an intensive lifestyle intervention can reduce CVD and CVD-related death among overweight individuals with Type 2 diabetes.

Gene X behavior interaction in the Look AHEAD study

In a related study, Wing and colleague Jeanne McCaffery, PhD, also of the WCDRC, will try to identify specific genes that predict individual differences in weight loss achieved in behavioral interventions. These genetic factors may shed some light on why some individuals are successful and others struggle to achieve weight loss. This study, which is also funded by NIDDK, will include participants in the Look AHEAD trial.


Contact: Jessica Collins Grimes

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