A researcher at Memorial University is conducting the first-ever detailed study into whether or not children in Newfoundland and Labrador are genetically predisposed to obesity.
Dr. Guang Sun, an associate professor of genetics in the Faculty of Medicine on Memorial’s St. John’s campus, yesturday received $50,000 in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to conduct his pilot study. Dr. Sun is well known for his study on adult obesity.
Two other researchers from Memorial were also recipients of funding. Dr. Barbara Neis, a professor in the Department of Sociology and co-director of SafetyNet, a Community Alliance for Health Research, was awarded $50,000. Her project will focus on seafood processing occupational health.
As well, Dr. Michael Grant, an associate professor of immunology in the Faculty of Medicine, will study ways to fight HIV infection. He received $415,137.
In total, Memorial researchers were awarded $515,137.
Dr. Sun said little is understood on the genetic basis of childhood obesity compared with adult obesity. But, armed with the CIHR funding, he hopes this will be the launching pad for his study. Dr. Tracy Bridger, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine, and a pediatrician at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre is a co-investigator for the study.
“It is well known that children have unique characteristics in terms of metabolism because they are still in the period of development,” he said. “The present study has been well designed. The first target is to recruit 100 families with at least one obese child in one year with the completion of accurate measurement of body fat, per cent body fat, fat distribution measured using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry and selected adipose tissue derived hormones.
“The second main target is the extraction of genomic DNA and preliminary genetic association study of seven obesity candidate genes for children.”
Dr. Sun said the phenotypes will be accurately measured which is extremely important in the study of complex diseases including obesity when multiple genes are involved.
“This study has the use of the genetically homogeneous population,” he added. “The combination of the two parts will certainly help to create an excellent genetic study for childhood obesity.”
CIHR funding was announced by Loyola Hearn, minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, on behalf of Federal Health Minister Tony Clement.
“Promoting ground-breaking health research is a crucial component of our government’s plan to build a healthy, prosperous and innovative Canada,” said Minister Hearn. “The funding announced today is helping to enhance the health research capabilities at Memorial University, which will benefit all Canadians.”
The research projects funded will be conducted at Memorial and the studies will be carried out over periods of one to five years.