This second COBRE grant to continue the center’s work is a demonstration of UofL’s continued emergence as a research university, said UofL President James R. Ramsey.
“The University of Louisville set out more than a decade ago to become Kentucky’s premier metropolitan research university. Getting there is arduous, requiring an unwavering commitment to excellence, innovative thinking and just plain old hard work,” Ramsey said. “But I think sustaining it may be even harder. That is why this grant is so significant.”
The Diabetes and Obesity Center is part of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine in UofL’s Department of Medicine. Its purpose is to provide a way to address the profound effect that diabetes and obesity have had on people’s health in the United States and their general quality of life, said center Director Aruni Bhatnagar.
“We approach diabetes and obesity not only as individual disease states, but as pieces of a larger, more comprehensive puzzle,” Bhatnagar said. “Thus, our researchers are working to develop a better understanding of diabetes and obesity not simply as individual disease states, but as the outcomes of a more comprehensive dysfunction—a dysfunction that profoundly affects all major organs and increases our risk of developing heart disease and cancer.”
Since 2008, Diabetes and Obesity Center scientists have “made significant gains in our understanding of diabetes and obesity,” said David L. Dunn, executive vice president for health affairs. “They have revealed an entirely new mechanism to regulate glucose sensitivity and a new avenue for preventing obesity…. They also have increased understanding of the enzymes that regulate glucose metabolism and how this contributes to secondary diabetic complications such as heart failure and restenosis, the narrowing of blood vessels that restricts blood flow.”
A key component of the new grant is its continued support of junior investigators. Within the past four years, seven junior investigators within the center have acquired independent federal funding, making it one of the most successful COBRE programs in the nation, Bhatnagar said.
“This grant not only supports our work in discovering new knowledge that will enable people to live healthier, more productive lives, it also helps us nurture the next generation of research scientists,” Ramsey said.
The center’s ultimate goal, Bhatnagar said, is to discover new and effective means for preventing and treating diabetes and obesity.
The need for new prevention methods and treatments grows with more intensity every day, he said.
“Diabetes and obesity are the two most significant health threats of our age. Over 90 million adults and children in the United States are obese, while 18 million adults are living with type 2 diabetes. These epidemics are spreading at an alarming rate and they are rapidly eroding recent gains in longevity by contributing to the burden of chronic diseases.
“Diabetes doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, an astonishing 60 ‒ 70 percent of diabetic patients die of heart disease,” Bhatnagar said. “Our team is making new discoveries every day—discoveries that will provide better understanding of the link between cardiovascular disease and the epidemics of diabetes and obesity. The more comprehensive our understanding of these conditions, the closer we come to developing a more effective strategy for their treatment and prevention.”