UofL Diabetes & Obesity Center wins second multimillion-dollar NIH grant


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A center created with a five-year National Institutes of Health grant at the University of Louisville in 2008 has won its second five-year grant.

    The NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences has awarded an $11.25 million “Center of Biomedical Research Excellence” grant to UofL’s Diabetes and Obesity Center.

    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.”

    Part of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine in the Department of Medicine at UofL, the Diabetes and Obesity Center was created as a way to address the profound effect that diabetes and obesity have had on our nation’s health and general quality of life, said its director, Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D.

    “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.”

    Executive Vice President for Health Affairs David L. Dunn, M.D., Ph.D., cited research advancements made with COBRE funding. “Center scientists have in the past five years made significant gains in our understanding of diabetes and obesity,” Dunn said. “They have revealed an entirely new mechanism to regulate glucose sensitivity and a new avenue for preventing obesity by increasing the production and bioavailability of nitric oxide. 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.”

    Also a key component of the 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,” Ramsey said. “It also helps us nurture the next generation of research scientists for the future.”

    That work will continue with the new grant, Bhatnagar said. “We will continue to use COBRE funding to enhance our multi-disciplinary center focused on diabetes and obesity research while fostering the research careers of junior investigators,” he said. “We also will utilize the funding to develop basic and clinical understanding of the molecular mechanisms of diabetes and obesity and how they contribute to the burden of cardiovascular disease. Ultimately, our goal is to discover new and effective means for preventing and treating diabetes and obesity.”

    The need for these 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”

    Jill Scoggins is Director of Communications at UofL's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. She has been at UofL since 2010.