Researchers to focus on effect of diet, exercise on risk of developing chronic diseases
The University of Maryland School of Medicine has received a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a clinical nutrition research center that will focus on how diet and exercise influence people’s risk of developing chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
“With obesity reaching epidemic proportions, these types of chronic conditions now detract from the quality of life and life expectancy of a majority of Americans and represent a major burden on our health care system,” says Susan K. Fried, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who will serve as the center’s director. “This center will expand the scope of our nutrition-related research and develop effective therapies and interventions.”
The center will bring together 44 NIH-funded basic scientists and clinical investigators from the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville. It will be the first Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (CNRU) core center in the region and one of eight centers funded by the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which is part of NIH. The National Cancer Institute funds two additional nutrition research centers.
“There is a lot of complementary strength in nutrition-related research in Maryland but it is spread among a number of institutions. This new center will provide a focus for nutrition- and obesity-related research and promote interactions between laboratories. It will provide infrastructure, facilities, equipment and skilled technical expertise to help researchers apply innovative methods to address important questions in the field of nutrition,” says Dr. Fried, who specializes in the study of fat (adipose) tissue.
The multidisciplinary research team at the University of Maryland has considerable expertise in nutrition, genetics, cellular and molecular biology and clinical research as well as experience in testing diet and exercise interventions to treat obesity and related disorders, including high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia and glucose intolerance.
Scientists affiliated with the new center will try to identify genes that influence nutrient metabolism and the risk of developing chronic diseases as we age. For example, some people’s triglyceride levels skyrocket when they eat a diet rich in fat while others eat the same food and their triglycerides remain the same. Researchers also will investigate the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the risk of developing chronic disease and explore genetic and nutritional factors that contribute to health disparities, such as the high prevalence of obesity and diabetes in minority populations.
In addition, scientists will look at how weight loss through diet and exercise improves risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and test the effectiveness of these types of lifestyle changes in preventing and treating obesity and related conditions.
“A major focus of our research will be to study the mechanisms by which diet and exercise influence obesity, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis,” says Dr. Fried, a researcher in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and at the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center.
The new center will also promote nutrition education with lectures and seminars for researchers, clinicians and medical students.
The NIDDK grant provides $750,000 a year for five years for the new center, including $100,000 a year in seed money to fund pilot studies, according to Dr. Fried.
The center will have three core laboratories. Dr. Fried will be the director of the adipose biology laboratory, and Alan R. Shuldiner, M.D., professor and head of endocrinology, diabetes and nutrition and director of the Program in Human Genetics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, will oversee the genetics laboratory. He will also serve as co-director of the nutrition research core center.
Andrew P. Goldberg, M.D., professor and head of gerontology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, will be in charge of the clinical research laboratory. Dr. Goldberg is also director of the GRECC at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, which is actively involved in studies to determine if many of the diseases and functional declines associated with aging are actually caused by physical deconditioning and obesity, and thus potentially treatable and preventable by adopting a healthy diet and physically active lifestyle.
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