Both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have received millions in grant funds from the National Institutes of Health to establish centers of excellence to study the links between obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grants provide five years of support, with $11.6 million going to the University of Louisville and $10.5 awarded to UK. The grants are designed to give talented young scientists the opportunity to produce initial data in new fields of study so that they can quickly seek individual federal research grants.
“We know there is a connection between obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and there are well-established connections between both of those conditions and cardiovascular disease,” said Lisa Cassis, professor and chair of UK’s Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences and the principal investigator of UK’s center of excellence. “What we don’t know is exactly how those connections are mapped out on a cellular, biochemical level. Through a better understanding of how obesity leads to cardiovascular disease, we will be able to develop new treatments.”
The research is especially important in Kentucky, where rates for obesity, diabetes and heart disease are well above the national average, Cassis said.
Kentucky has the fourth-highest rate of death from heart disease among the 50 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The state comes in at No. 7 for the prevalence of both obesity and diabetes, and it ranks high in other primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension and inactivity, according to the most recent statistics from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Statewide, 28.4 percent of adults are obese, 67 percent are overweight, 9.6 percent have diabetes, 30.7 percent are physically inactive and 30 percent have high blood pressure.
The close association between statistics for these diseases, coupled with their high prevalence in Kentucky, signifies the importance of research aimed at defining how obesity promotes diabetes and cardiovascular disease.