COBRE grant lets UNL, UNMC collaborate on obesity

August 27, 2014

Image with caption: Members of Dr. Mott's laboratory are (left to right): Sathish Natarajan, Ph.D., Cody Wehrkamp, Justin Mott, M.D., Ph.D., Mary Anne Phillippi, and Ashley Mohr, Ph.D.

Members of Dr. Mott's laboratory are (left to right): Sathish Natarajan, Ph.D., Cody Wehrkamp, Justin Mott, M.D., Ph.D., Mary Anne Phillippi, and Ashley Mohr, Ph.D.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has earned an $11.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a research center focused on understanding nutrition and obesity at the molecular level, and UNMC researchers will be collaborating in the project.

The five-year grant from NIH's Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program will support the Nebraska Center for the Prevention of Obesity Diseases through Dietary Molecules (NPOD). The COBRE program is funded through the Institutional Development Award Program, which supports health-related research and fosters faculty development and research infrastructure.

Justin Mott, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UNMC, will serve as a project leader in the NPOD. Dr. Mott studies liver injury associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome, termed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of liver injury and can result in liver failure and even liver cancer.

"Treatment for NAFLD will require understanding the pathways of injury at the cellular level and how dietary molecules may offer protection," Dr. Mott said. "The potential pay-off of these studies is a non-intrusive way to improve health through dietary approaches to obesity-related diseases, enhancing needed behavioral and cultural changes."

This award will allow Dr. Mott's team to follow-up on the innovative finding that bile duct cells (cholangiocytes) are injured by saturated free fatty acids. It was previously known that hepatocytes suffered damage, but the finding of biliary injury may help explain the inflammatory and fibrotic response in some patients.

"This award recognizes the strong research programs that UNL has built to address the health challenges in obesity and related diseases that our nation faces," said UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

Answering molecular-level questions regarding obesity and related diseases is a crucial first step toward curbing this national epidemic. The center builds on UNL's strength in nutrition and health research and will aim to establish a community of nationally recognized researchers in nutrition, genetics, biochemistry, food science, immunology and computer science.

The long-term goal is to become a leader in nutrient signaling and the prevention of obesity and obesity-related diseases, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, said Center Director Janos Zempleni, Ph.D., of UNL's Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences.

"This combined focus makes NPOD unique in the U.S. and globally," he said. "Through this center, we will develop science-based strategies using dietary compounds to improve human health."

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Priyanka Vaz
August 27, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Congratulations Dr.Mott !!!

Imayavaramban
August 27, 2014 at 9:22 AM

Congratulations to Mott's lab

Moorthy Ponnusamy
August 27, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Congrats Dr. Mott...