UAB receives $7M grant to fund obesity-related research

By Adam Pope

UAB News

From left: Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., Mona Fouad, M.D., Timothy Garvey, M.D.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center has been awarded a $7 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to establish the UAB Obesity Health Disparities Research Center.

UAB is one of 12 academic institutions in the United States to receive funding through the NIMHD’s Centers of Excellence program that fosters collaborative multidisciplinary research in minority health and health disparities. Using the state of Alabama as a model, UAB investigators will study the complex contributors and interactions among biological, behavioral and social factors related to obesity. Investigators will also study how the factors vary at critical periods during life, and develop interventions to address these contributors.

“This new NIMHD/NIH award allows us to build on the MHRC’s strong foundation, which has been successful for the last 15 years,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the UAB MHRC and co-principal investigator for the new center. “Under the umbrella of the MHRC, we have studied the pathways to obesity and the differences in health outcomes for members of vulnerable populations. With the creation of this new obesity research center, we can continue this important work.”

This award allows the UAB MHRC to expand its impactful obesity-related research, education and community engagement efforts during the next five years.

The OHDRC will also launch two new research projects. One project, led by Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, will study whether early life stress — age 20 and younger — can change DNA in a way that contributes to obesity, and if this changed DNA can be inherited by future generations. Mrug will also investigate whether there are protective factors that can prevent the biologically embedded DNA changes from being transmitted to children.

The second project will be under the leadership of Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, Ph.D., and Gareth Dutton, Ph.D., associate professors in preventive medicine, and will test the effectiveness of delivering obesity prevention as part of a federally funded home visitation program for low-income mothers and their young children. The study will examine whether a simple targeted in-home intervention that focuses on developing good habits can improve weight outcomes and obesity risk among mothers and children.

Joining Fouad as co-principal investigators are UAB colleagues Tim Garvey, M.D., professor of medicine and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences, and senior scientist in the Nutrition Obesity Research Center Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., professor and associate director for Faculty Development and Education, Division of Preventive Medicine.