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UT Southwestern's obesity research receives $22 million NIH Roadmap grant

DALLAS Sept. 6, 2007 UT Southwestern Medical Centers obesity research team has received a $22 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to enhance its groundbreaking efforts to attack obesity from every angle, from studying fat cells to developing medicines.

The award, formally announced today, is one of nine interdisciplinary research consortia sponsored by the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. These groups seek to solve difficult problems by blending approaches from multiple biomedical research disciplines.

UT Southwesterns group is the only one focused on obesity.

The money, to be given over five years, fortifies UT Southwesterns Task Force for Obesity Research, a team of scientists and clinicians who are investigating the behavioral, molecular and metabolic mechanisms behind obesity and metabolic disorders.

This extends and strengthens our task forces ability to conduct studies to gain much-needed insight into the key molecular pathways that govern energy metabolism and translate that into the development of new approaches to prevent obesity and treat associated metabolic complications, such as heart disease and diabetes, said Dr. Jay Horton, associate professor of internal medicine and molecular genetics and the grants coordinating investigator.

The grant comes at a time when waistlines are bulging. Two-thirds of adults in America are overweight or obese, raising their risk of developing health maladies including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, fatty liver disease and others.

But the reasons why obesity and these conditions go hand-in-hand are largely unknown.

To help answer these questions, UT Southwesterns Task Force for Obesity Research was formed in 2004 with a three-year, $1.78 million planning grant that also was part of the NIH Roadmap.

The UT Southwestern group comprises 29 scientists from different backgrounds, including genetics, endocrinology, nutrition, neurology, lipid metabolism, psychiatry and epidemiology a combination aimed at better understanding the processes that lead to obesity and associated metabolic disorders, said Dr. Horton, holder of the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Chair in Obesity & Diabetes Research.

The scientists are divided into four interconnected research groups focused on certain metabolic aspects, and each will tackle new research projects with the NIH Roadmap infusion.

Dr. Joel Elmquist, professor of internal medicine and pharmacology, heads the group focused on the central regulators of energy metabolism, namely the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that controls food intake and energy expenditure. Dr. Craig Malloy, medical director of the Advanced Imaging Research Center, and Dr. Elizabeth Parks, associate professor of clinical nutrition, oversee the in vivo intermediary metabolism group, which uses different imaging techniques to study metabolic disorders in humans and animals. Dr. David Mangelsdorf, chairman of pharmacology, and Dr. Joseph Goldstein, chairman of molecular genetics, head a group studying the molecular biology of energy metabolism. Dr. Jonathan Cohen, professor of internal medicine and in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, heads a group that examines human genetics and energy metabolism.

Combined, the quartet has three main objectives:

  • Foster interdisciplinary interactions to study obesity and metabolic syndromes;
  • Develop research programs using genetically modified mice to elucidate the metabolic and molecular bases of obesity and metabolic syndromes throughout the body; and
  • Translate scientific findings made in animal models to humans.

Obesity remains a pressing problem, but the coordinated efforts of the task force increase our ability to generate future successes in fighting metabolic disorders, Dr. Elmquist said.

In applying the task forces research to humans, grant investigators will use data from participants in the Dallas Heart Study, an investigation of cardiovascular disease involving nearly 6,000 Dallas County residents, led by Dr. Helen Hobbs, director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development and the Donald W. Reynolds Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center.

The latest Roadmap grant also sets up a program to provide interdisciplinary training for postdoctoral fellows. Participants will work with mentors and primary investigators from many different disciplines to help break down the barriers that often exist between research fields.

Obesity is obviously an enormous public health problem. Many of our most talented faculty members want to help, and we are delighted that their coordinated efforts have been recognized by award of this major grant from the National Institutes of Health, said Dr. Alfred Gilman, executive vice president for academic affairs, provost, and dean of UT Southwestern Medical School.

The NIH Roadmap is a series of far-reaching initiatives designed to transform the nations medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from the lab to the bedside. It provides a framework of the priorities the NIH must address in order to optimize its entire research portfolio and lays out a vision for a more efficient and productive system of medical research.

Other UT Southwestern researchers involved in the Task Force for Obesity Research and the new grant are: Dr. Michael Brown, director of the Erik Jonsson Center for Research in Molecular Genetics and Human Disease; Dr. Jeffrey Browning, assistant professor of internal medicine and in the Advanced Imaging Research Center; Dr. Shawn Burgess, assistant professor in the Advanced Imaging Research Center and of radiology; Dr. Abhimanyu Garg, professor of internal medicine; Dr. Scott Grundy, director of the Center for Human Nutrition; Dr. Steven Kliewer, professor of molecular biology and pharmacology; Dr. Bassil Kublaoui, assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine; Dr. Ildiko Lingvay, assistant professor of internal medicine; and Dr. Edward Livingston, chief of GI/endocrine surgery.

Also involved are: Dr. Eric Nestler, chairman of psychiatry; Dr. Keith Parker, professor of internal medicine and pharmacology; Dr. Joyce Repa, assistant professor of physiology and internal medicine; Dr. David Russell, professor of molecular genetics; Dr. Philipp Scherer, director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research; Dr. Dean Sherry, director of the Advanced Imaging Research Center; Dr. Carol Tamminga, professor of psychiatry; Dr. Kosaku Uyeda, professor of biochemistry and internal medicine; Dr. Gloria Vega, professor of clinical nutrition; Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa, professor of molecular genetics; and Dr. Andrew Zinn, associate professor in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development and of internal medicine.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, an RNAi therapeutics company in Cambridge, Mass., and Integrative BioInformatics, Inc., a biotechnology company in Los Altos, Calif., are also involved in the grant.


Contact: Amanda Siegfried
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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