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Obesity research makes impact at international conference

Back (L-R): Farrell Cahill, Daniel Wadden and Dr. Edward Randell. Front (L-R): Hongwei Zhang, Peyvand Amini, Dr. Sudesh Vasdev and Dr. Guang Sun.

By Sharon Gray

It is hard not to be impressed by the performance of the research team of Dr. Guang Sun, professor of genetics in the Faculty of Medicine. They presented nine posters at the 29th Obesity Society annual meeting which took place Oct. 1-5 in Orlando, Fla.

PhD student Farrell Cahill had three first author, two second author and three third author posters. Danny Wadden, an honours turned M.Sc. student, also attended with one first author poster and three second author contributions. Investigators on the team who made significant contributions include Drs. Ed Randell, Sudesh Vasdev, Wayne Gulliver and Yanqing Yi.

Dr Sun's Complex Diseases in the Newfoundland Population: Environment and Genetics (CODING) study is an ongoing investigation regarding the endocrine, genetic and nutritional factors associated with obesity and diabetes. The discoveries presented covered a number of aspects of obesity.

"The first aspect regards the appetite regulating hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tracts – peptide YY and ghrelin – on the variations of human body fat accumulation, macro-nutrient intakes and insulin sensitivity," said Dr. Sun. "Most findings are the first reports of their kind in the field."

A second aspect is the powerful effect of essential amino acids on human body composition. "The findings provided strong evidence about the possibility of lowering the rising prevalence of obesity in this province by increasing the percentage of essential amino acids to improve the health of Newfoundlanders and Canadians," said Dr. Sun. "However, it is a complicated challenge to increase the intake of all eight essential amino acids to get the benefit and try to avoid potential side effects."

The third aspect is the evaluation of a novel method to estimate body fat. Recently a new method called body adiposity index (BAI) to evaluate body fat based on height and hip circumference was suggested by a group of researchers at the University of Southern California. Dr. Sun's team performed extensive analysis using the Newfoundland population-based CODING study. The study discovered that the bone system-based BAI equation generally performed better than body mass index (BMI) in people whose weight was normal or overweight. However, the new BAI method performed poorly than BMI in obese people.

"This is a serious problem for the BAI to be used in obese evaluation," said Dr. Sun. "Our team is currently developing our own new method using the data from the CODING study. The new method is simple to use but more accurate than the traditional BMI method."

The Obesity Society's Annual Scientific Meeting is one of the largest congregations of clinical and laboratory obesity researchers in the world. "This conference allowed us the opportunity to share our experience with laboratories from around the globe while also building new collaborative relationships for future research," said Dr. Sun.

In addition to their individual research project productivity, both Mr. Cahill and Mr. Wadden have made significant recruitment contributions to Dr. Sun's CODING study. This is one of the largest studies of its kind in the world with more than 3,000 participants.

The CODING study is presently exploring the genetic, endocrine and nutritional links to obesity and diabetes within the province. Participation in this study involves participants giving a small blood sample and undergoing a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan which measures bone density, muscle mass and body fat distribution.