UK wins grant to study obesity, heart disease

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — University of Kentucky researchers said Monday that they have landed an $11.3 million federal grant to study the connection between obesity and cardiovascular disease — two chronic problems plaguing a state with a chart-full of health woes.

The award from the National Institutes of Health was hailed as one of the largest health grants ever made to the state’s flagship university in Lexington.

“This research is of direct relevance to Kentucky because we do have a high prevalence of both obesity and cardiovascular disease,” said the project director, Lisa Cassis, who heads UK’s Department of Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology.

Kentucky has been saddled with some of the nation’s worst rates for adult obesity and cardiovascular deaths. The Bluegrass state also has been at or near the top for rates of cancer deaths, adult diabetes and premature deaths.

Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death among the obese, Cassis said at the funding announcement on UK’s Lexington campus.

Research by the UK team will delve into how obesity influences cardiovascular health, she said. The funding will “enable us to identify pivotal pathways that link obesity to cardiovascular diseases so we can improve the health of people at risk” of the disease, she said.

The research will span from labs to patient bedsides. Specifically, researchers will look at how obesity occurs, how fat tissue promotes cardiovascular disease, how obesity affects heart function, and how obesity impairs recovery from heart attacks, she said.

Provost Christine Riordan said the funding will give UK researchers “more firepower to take on obesity and related cardiovascular diseases.”

Cassis said the goal is to improve patient care and health in Kentucky and beyond. The findings by UK researchers will be published in science journals, she said.

“As we make findings that impact care of patients, as quickly as we can implement them, we will,” she said.

The project will team junior-level scientists with senior researchers, with the goal of expanding the roster of UK scientists competing for NIH grants.

“They’re really the scientists of the future who will tackle this highly significant problem,” Cassis said.

The NIH grant is the latest boost for UK’s health sciences. UK’s Markey Cancer Center in Lexington won designation earlier this year as a National Cancer Institute facility, giving the state new clout in fighting a disease that kills Kentuckians at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. The designation brings the potential for millions of dollars in additional research funding.

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