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New Research Hub to Study Link Between Obesity and Disease

Nearly 70% of our region’s population are considered overweight or obese
Female nurse in exam room showing information on a tablet to a middle aged male patient

In the mid-20th century, researchers started to uncover a clear link between smoking tobacco and health issues. The U.S. surgeon general released a landmark report in 1964, definitively linking smoking to lung cancer and other diseases. Over the decades, smoking rates have dropped significantly, largely due to increased awareness of the health risks and the implementation of antismoking measures. Research into the health effects of tobacco use, as well as ways to help users quit, continues to this day.

The 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health involved many experts and contained research findings from epidemiological studies, basic science efforts, clinical observations and more. This interdisciplinary approach was crucial in assessing the health risks associated with smoking.

A New Front Against Obesity

Now, researchers are teaming up to tackle another public health threat: obesity. Clinical, translational and basic science investigators across The University of Kansas Cancer Center and the University of Kansas Medical Center are spearheading efforts to study obesity, metabolism and obesity-related diseases. A new $12 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will create synergy among this community of experts by bridging existing research programs, creating critical new core facilities and training the next generation of researchers. The new hub is called the Kansas Center for Metabolism and Obesity Research (KC-MORE).

KC-MORE is led by two principal investigators at the medical center: John Thyfault, PhD, professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology and in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Genetics and director of the University of Kansas Diabetes Institute; and Steven Weinman, MD, PhD, professor in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and director of the University of Kansas Liver Center. Both are members of The University of Kansas Cancer Center. 

KC-MORE is part of the NIH’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, which supports the establishment and development of innovative research centers that are organized around a certain disease or research topic. Obesity is multifactorial and complex, and research ranges from studying socioeconomic factors to exploring biological mechanisms. KC-MORE leaders aim to foster collaboration and interdisciplinary research, leading to a strong community of people working together to address obesity. 

The creation of KC-MORE sets the University of Kansas Medical Center on a path to becoming a major force in obesity research. Roy Jensen, MD

Vice chancellor and director of KU Cancer Center

Obesity as a Leading Cause of Cancer

Being overweight or having obesity is linked with a higher risk of getting 13 types of cancer. These cancers comprise 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year. In fact, obesity is expected to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of cancer. 

In the cancer center’s catchment area (Kansas and western Missouri), nearly 70% of the population is considered obese or overweight. As the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the region, our research is informed by the needs of those we serve. As such, obesity is a top research priority. In 2023 alone, cancer center members held about $10.9 million in grant funding for research related to obesity. 

“With the tools and resources provided by this new center, we will be able to make a more substantial impact in the field,” says Roy Jensen, MD, vice chancellor and director of the cancer center. “The creation of KC-MORE sets the University of Kansas Medical Center on a path to becoming a major force in obesity research.” 

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