New $4.4 million research project targets obesity

December 07, 2015

University Park -- A deeper understanding of the causes of obesity, and improved treatments for obesity and many of its related health problems, are among the goals of a new $4.4 million, 4-year research grant awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to a team of scientists from Geisinger Health System, Penn State University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

"Our overall goal is not only to predict the risk of obesity but also to improve diagnosis and therapies for coronary heart disease, endometrial cancer, type-2 diabetes, and other debilitating medical conditions associated with obesity," said Marylyn D. Ritchie, the Paul Berg Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State and the director of biomedical and translational informatics at Geisinger Health System. Ritchie is the principal investigator of the research team, which she leads along with Pentz Professor of Biology Kateryna Makova at Penn State and Jason H. Moore, the Edward Rose Professor of Informatics and Director of the Institute for Biomedical Informatics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The research project is part of the "Big Data in Health Research" effort established by the state's Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement Program (CURE) to develop new procedures, methods, and software for integrating and analyzing multiple types of biomedical information stored in large clinical, imaging, laboratory, genetic, and other databases. The goal of the effort is to discover insights that can guide future research, education, and clinical care for the prevention or treatment of diseases that are important for the citizens of Pennsylvania. "We have assembled the field's experts in Big Data analytics, genomics, and data mining to develop new approaches to analyze data from electronic health records along with genetic information," Ritchie said.

Among the conditions associated with obesity that the Geisinger/Penn State/U.Penn research team will study are nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) -- the leading cause of cirrhosis -- and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) -- which affects 30 percent of U.S. adults and also increases the risk of type-2 diabetes. The researchers also expect to gain new insights into the mechanisms underlying the effects of obesity on the progression, recurrence, and overall survival rates of patients with endometrial cancer. "Obesity is the most significant risk factor for endometrial cancer," Moore said. "Understanding these mechanisms in more detail, which is one of the goals of our research, can lead to new treatment options."

Makova said, "Our work is based on the fact that genome science has advanced at a tremendous pace during recent years, with dramatic innovations in molecular data generation technology, data collection, and a paradigm shift from single-lab science to large, collaborative network/consortia science. This work will improve the health of Pennsylvanians by reducing the prevalence of obesity and related diseases, generating significant savings in terms of public health outlays as a result."

Degenerative joint disease is another focus of this research team. "We plan to do integrated analyses of genomic, environmental, behavioral, and clinical data in order to reveal a better understanding of the relationship of obesity and weight loss to degenerative joint disease," Ritchie said.

The Geisinger/Penn State/U.Penn project also includes internship training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate minority students in the use of bioinformatics and computer technology for the management of biological information. Another educational goal of the research project is the development of a two-year learning opportunity for post-baccalaureate minority students that includes both classwork and scientific research. "The interdisciplinary nature of research in Big Data analysis for biomedical discovery has created enormous educational opportunities," Ritchie said. "The CURE grant will help to support our work with our collaborative research partners to foster an increase in training opportunities for minority students in this emerging field."

The innovative methods, systems, and software that will be developed by this project also will be available for use by other researchers studying other diseases and conditions. In this way, the Geisinger/Penn State/U.Penn effort may help to improve the understanding and treatment of other diseases and conditions, as well.

Marylyn D. Ritchie:,, (+1) 814-863-5107, (+1) 570-214-7579

Kateryna Makova:, (+1) 814-863-1619

Jason H. Moore:, (+1) 215-573-4411

Barbara Kennedy (PIO):, (+1) 814-863-4682


This project is funded, in part, under a grant with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The Department specifically disclaims responsibility for any analyses, interpretations or conclusions.

Penn State

Related Obesity Articles from Brightsurf:

11 years of data add to the evidence for using testosterone therapy to treat obesity, including as an alternative to obesity surgery
New research covering 11 years of data presented at this year's European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) show that, in obese men suffering from hypogonadism (low testosterone), treatment with testosterone injections lowers their weight and improves a wide range of other metabolic parameters.

Overlap between immunology of COVID-19 and obesity could explain the increased risk of death in people living with obesity, and also older patients
Data presented in a special COVID-19 session at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) suggests that there are overlaps between the immunological disturbances found in both COVID-19 disease and patients with obesity, which could explain the increased disease severity and mortality risk faced by obese patients, and also elderly patients, who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

New obesity guideline: Address root causes as foundation of obesity management
besity management should focus on outcomes that patients consider to be important, not weight loss alone, and include a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of obesity, according to a new clinical practice guideline published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Changing the debate around obesity
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) needs to do more to address the ingrained stigma and discrimination faced by people with obesity, says a leading health psychologist.

Study links longer exposure to obesity and earlier development of obesity to increased risk of type 2 diabetes
Cumulative exposure to obesity could be at least as important as actually being obese in terms of risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D), concludes new research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).

How much do obesity and addictions overlap?
A large analysis of personality studies has found that people with obesity behave somewhat like people with addictions to alcohol or drugs.

Should obesity be recognized as a disease?
With obesity now affecting almost a third (29%) of the population in England, and expected to rise to 35% by 2030, should we now recognize it as a disease?

Is obesity associated with risk of pediatric MS?
A single-center study of 453 children in Germany with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigated the association of obesity with pediatric MS risk and with the response of first-line therapy in children with MS.

Women with obesity prior to conception are more likely to have children with obesity
A systematic review and meta-analysis identified significantly increased odds of child obesity when mothers have obesity before conception, according to a study published June 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Nicola Heslehurst of Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues.

Obesity medicine association announces major updates to its adult obesity algorithm
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced the immediate availability of the 2019 OMA Adult Obesity Algorithm, with new information for clinicians including the relationship between Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Dyslipidemia, and Cancer; information on investigational Anti-Obesity Pharmacotherapy; treatments for Lipodystrophy; and Pharmacokinetics and Obesity.

Read More: Obesity News and Obesity Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to