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Despite the fact that competition for federal research funding is tougher than ever, researchers at the University of Kentucky were recently awarded one of the largest health grants ever made to the institution: an $11.3 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) award to support research on the twin scourges of obesity and cardiovascular disease that plague the Commonwealth. The grant funds the UK Center for Research in Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease (COCVD), a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) committed to the dual goals of finding real solutions and training the next generation of researchers and scientists.

The primary activity of UK COCVD is to identify mechanisms linking obesity to the high incidence of cardiovascular diseases in the obese population. This research focus is used as a platform to develop promising junior investigators who serve as principal investigators on research projects that address timely and significant questions related to obesity and cardiovascular disease. The center has assembled a group of established, extramurally funded scientists that provides mentoring for the junior investigators to develop research projects and enhances their success in competing for independent NIH-funded research.

As a multidisciplinary collaborative, COCVD also encourages the development of research infrastructure and shared use core facilities that support and extend research methods critical to the study of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

The COCVD is led by Dr. Lisa Cassis, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology, and a faculty member of the Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences, the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, the Barnstable Brown Diabetes and Obesity Center. Under her leadership, the center has now secured two phases of this COBRE funding for obesity and cardiovascular research. Research to be executed under the present grant spans from laboratory research conducted at the cellular level, to bedside translational research conducted in pediatric and adult patients. Projects focus on mechanisms for the development of obesity, the influence of obesity on recovery after a heart attack, obesity-induced inflammation and how this influences the cardiovascular system, and imaging of heart dynamics and function in obese children.

During Phase 1, 90 percent of mentored junior faculty successfully competed for NIH funding, cutting-edge research cores were established, and pilot funding supported additional research projects. Five hundred manuscripts were published as a result of the Phase 1 funding, with similar success anticipated in Phase 2.

“UK has made a promise to the people of this state that we will be there in the future, just as we are today, working to improve the lives of our fellow Kentuckians. This project represents the fulfillment of that promise, as we move forward with research to improve the health of the Commonwealth, and it gives us future hope that our junior investigators will continue this work into the next generation. Today and tomorrow, we will move forward with basic and clinical research that will help real people with real health problems,” said UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto.