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Kevin Lee poses for a portrait in the Academic Research Center at Ohio University after receiving an American Diabetes Association grant that will aid his current projects. (HANNAH SCHROEDER | PHOTO EDITOR)

Professors receive two grants to study diabetes

Vishwajeet Puri, an associate professor at The Diabetes Institute at Ohio University, has discovered new genes that could lead to diabetes treatment. This year, the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine received two new grants which will help continue research on the role of fat cells in diabetes. 

This year, two Diabetes Institute projects received grants from the American Diabetes Association and the Grant of Growth Innovation. Through research and collaboration, biomedical science professors in the HCOM are working to combat the health problems associated with Type 2 diabetes by examining fat cells and genetics. There is a direct correlation between obesity rates and Type 2 diabetes in the United States.

The American Diabetes Association’s grant is $552,000 over four years and the Grant for Growth Innovation equates to almost $250,000.

“There’s like 200 to 300 pounds of fat tissue on an obese person, so the question is if only some of these fat tissue cells are leading to metabolic disorders, maybe we can actually have a targeted intervention against those specific cells,” Kevin Lee, assistant professor in The Diabetes Institute at OU, said. “And that we could actually treat a lot of the comorbidities that are associated with diabetes.”

Lee received a Junior Faculty Development award from the American Diabetes Association for his research, which looks at how fat develops and aims to create targeted treatment for obesity-related diseases. 

There are three different kinds of fat tissue, or adipocytes, and Lee’s lab is working to understand how those subpopulations influence the progression from simple obesity to insulin resistance and diabetes. 

The grant from the American Diabetes Association funds research on what happens to the different kinds of fat cells during obesity.

When a patient continues to eat a high-fat diet, fat cells grow in size and become less efficient in storing lipid so the “little balls of oil” start to leak, causing low-grade inflammation and then insulin resistance, Lee said. 

“We’re going to keep working on these different cell populations and we’re gonna be looking at how different hormones affect these populations and actually really try to nail down the function of all these different populations in mice and eventually in people,” Lee said. 

Vishwajeet Puri is collaborating with Aarhus University in Denmark to find a therapeutic method of improving the breakdown of fatty acids in the body using growth hormones. By winning the Grant of Growth Innovation, the partnership beat 65 applicants from around the world.

Puri is working with mice, while Jens Otto Lunde Jørgensen and his team in Denmark use human subjects to research the storage and breakdown of fat. 

“We are reaching toward a mechanism of growth hormone action of lipolysis … it leads to therapeutics,” Puri said. “The next step is now we have targets identified, we have a mechanism. We have actually mapped the pathway of how it is happening and we can target that pathway.”

In the last few years, Puri identified genes which are associated with the storage and breakdown of fat. That discovery has led to an international collaboration and an annual symposium on growth hormones.

“This is not simply a collaboration,” Puri said. “Last December their team visited us, so we organized a seminar here for them … this grant is a product of the symposium.”

The symposium is in February and will be held in Denmark. As part of the grant, a PhD student from Aarhus University is going to visit OU for a few months to work on the program and in the lab with Puri’s team.

“It’s just a start … it has multiple avenues and that’s what we are exploring,” Puri said. “Yes, therapeutics, that is definitely there, but think about it, it’s a collaboration — two big institutions are coming together with each other, and what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna expand that symposium.”

Puri plans to get other countries involved in the symposium in order to explore treatment. 


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