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A $12 million grant from NIH launches KC-MORE, a research center to study obesity and obesity-related disease

The Kansas Center for Metabolism and Obesity Research seeks to become a national hub for obesity-related research and the training of junior research faculty.

On a table sits a scale, an apple, lettuce, water bottle, tape measure and small dumbbell
A serious problem for Kansans and all Americans, obesity remains a leading cause of mortality and disease. This new center will study obesity from the molecular level to how it contributes to numerous diseases.

Many researchers from across the University of Kansas Medical Center have contributed significantly to the field of obesity research over the years. Now, there will be a center funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at KU Medical Center specifically dedicated to that important work.

Known as the Kansas Center for Metabolism and Obesity Research (KC-MORE), and supported by a $12 million five-year grant from the NIH, this new center will unify research efforts in human obesity and obesity-related disease.

While numerous researchers will be involved, KC-MORE will be led by three principal investigators at KU Medical Center: Joseph E. Donnelly Jr., Ed.D., professor in the Division of Physical Activity and Weight Management; John P. Thyfault, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology and in the division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Genetics; and Steven Weinman, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and director of the University of Kansas Liver Center.

“Obesity causes chronic health conditions,” Thyfault said. “It causes early mortality, and rates of obesity are very high in Kansas. It’s a serious problem. And, here at KU Medical Center, we have a number of researchers who specialize in various elements of obesity and related disease conditions.”

KU has long had strong research programs in nutrition, obesity, metabolism, diabetes and fatty liver disease. The establishment of the new center will allow these programs to join together, supporting them with state-of-the-art scientific core facilities and training new faculty investigators to develop successful careers in obesity-related research.

On Oct. 26, KC-MORE leaders appeared on a broadcast of "Open Mics
with Dr. Stites" to discuss the center, its focus areas and what new research
could mean for the prevention and treatment of obesity-related diseases.

“Our No. 1 goal is to improve human health,” Weinman said. “And part of that will be addressing obesity in all of its manifestations with a robust group of investigators,” he added, noting that KC-MORE will include researchers from many different disciplines, from bench scientists studying obesity in cells and tissues to biochemists and physiologists studying processes that retain fat in the liver to applied psychologists, nutritionists, pharmacologists and cardiovascular specialists.

The three principal investigators, all full professors at KU School of Medicine, also bring a wide range of expertise. Donnelly is a widely published author in obesity who specializes in behavioral strategies for diet and physical activity; Thyfault is a scientist who studies and understands metabolism from the cellular level to the physiological level with a focus on exercise metabolism; and Weinman is a clinician, specializing in fatty liver disease, who understands obesity and its implications for a wide range of diseases.

Another major goal of the center is to support and mentor specific junior faculty with dedicated funds until they obtain their first major NIH grant. The center also will provide support for other investigators across campus through pilot funding, clinical and basic core infrastructure and regular seminars and meetings focused on developing new approaches to prevent and treat obesity and metabolic dysfunction and to reduce the burden of obesity-related disease.

KC-MORE is part of the NIH’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, which supports the establishment and development of innovative biomedical and behavioral research centers. KC-MORE’s long-term goal is to develop a critical mass of NIH-funded clinical, translational and basic researchers who will develop new approaches to preventing and treating obesity and its complications.

“KC-MORE will unite the obesity research and clinical community by providing infrastructure for obesity research and training opportunities for junior faculty,” Donnelly said. “Most importantly, KC-MORE will provide the energy and structure to recruit additional promising young and established obesity investigators to join the effort to prevent and treat obesity and associated co-morbid conditions.”

Weinman agreed. “One advantage of the COBRE grants is that it is very far-sighted,” he explained. “COBRE is one of the few programs that pay faculty to mentor others. And the COBRE structure forces us to have a well-developed plan for training and mentoring.”

The first junior faculty funded by KC-MORE are E. Matthew Morris, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell biology and physiology; Anna Gorczyca, Ph.D., research assistant professor of physical activity and weight management; and Hongmin Ni, M.D., assistant professor and technical director of the Liver Cell Isolation Core in the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics.

Learn more

Explore the Kansas Center for Metabolism and Obesity Research COBRE website for additional information about research projects, core facilities and faculty investigators. 


On Oct. 26, the program "Open Mics with Doctor Stites," hosted by The University of Kansas Health System, featured interviews with KC-MORE leaders. 

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