New team of Hamilton scientists target fat in children
A team of McMaster researchers and McMaster Children’s Hospital clinicians have banded together to address the epidemic of childhood obesity.
The new team is called the MAC-Obesity Research Program, as a short form for Metabolism And Childhood Obesity Research Program. Its members include laboratory researchers from McMaster University and clinicians from Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster studying pediatric obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders and cancer.
By combining expertise across a wide variety of areas including genetics, metabolism and biochemistry, physical activity, surgery and inflammation, the team hopes to develop new ways to prevent and treat obesity-related diseases.
There’s no doubt there’s an issue: In Canada the number of children with obesity has tripled in the past 25 years, and now more than one in four is overweight.
Of those seen for weight management at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, 80 per cent are at risk of heart disease and one in five has pre-diabetes.
Science hasn’t found a cure – yet.
“We are fortunate to have some world class scientists and pediatric clinician researchers able to work together at the same hospital to develop new approaches to the prevention and treatment of obesity in children,” said Steve Collins, associate dean, research for the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster. “We are well positioned, as a university-hospital collaboration, to achieve this.”
Peter Fitzgerald, president of the McMaster Children’s Hospital, said: “Childhood obesity is a very important and challenging problem. I’m confident this new research program will help children here at home and around the world.”
Start-up funding for the program includes $450,000 from the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation and physical space at the McMaster Children’s Hospital, in addition to $1 million and equipment and research infrastructure from McMaster University. The program’s co-directors are Katherine Morrison, a physician specializing in pediatric obesity and lipid disorders, and Gregory Steinberg, a scientist studying metabolism and obesity.
“We can’t simply keep saying eat less and exercise more – we know that hasn’t worked to improve health. We need to focus on how to help patients change behaviours and on improving how our bodies regulate themselves and use energy,” said Morrison, an associate professor of pediatrics in McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and a pediatrician at McMaster Children’s Hospital.
Steinberg, an associate professor of medicine at the medical school who holds a Canada Research Chair, said: “We have more than 30 outstanding researchers and clinicians that have accomplished much in their respective fields, but we know that with teamwork we can identify new ways to treat and prevent obesity-related diseases in children.”
Morrison added that the key goal of the group is to develop an integrated approach to diagnosing, preventing and treating obesity related health problems, as only such an approach can fully address a disorder as complex as obesity.
Recent examples of the multi-faceted research being conducted by the MAC-Obesity team include studies which demonstrate the need for screening of pre-diabetes in overweight children, the identification of key genes controlling the beneficial effects of exercise and the impact of a diet high in fat on fetal development and survival.
The research program has set up a website at http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/macobesity/