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Center for Basic and Translational Obesity Research

Mission Statement

The Center for Basic and Translational Obesity Research is an interdisciplinary research program at Boston Children’s Hospital whose goal is to improve our understanding of how people become obese or suffer from complications of obesity, and to help translate research findings into better treatments and preventive measures.

About The Center

Based within the Department of Medicine and the Division of Endocrinology, The Center for Basic and Translational Obesity at Children's Hospital currently has three primary faculty (Joel Hirschhorn, Nada Kalaany, Nicholas Stylopoulos).  The laboratories of the three primary faculty are located on the 16th floor of the Center for Life Sciences Building at Children's Hospital. 

The Center also reaches out to other lab-based researchers with a major focus on obesity, as well as clinical researchers, epidemiologic researchers, and interested clinicians.  The Center’s overall goal is to improve our understanding of how people become obese or suffer from complications of obesity, and help to translate research findings into better treatments. A major aim of the Center is to foster interactions between researchers at Children's who take different approaches to study obesity, so as to spark both collaboration and an interchange of ideas.

Principal Investigators and Staff:

1)  Joel Hirschhorn, MD PhD, Director of the Center, Concordia Professor of Pediatrics, and Professor of Genetics

2)  Nada Kalaany, PhD, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics

3)  Nicholas Stylopoulos, MD, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics

4)  Christopher Addis, Program Coordinator

Research areas studied in the Center:

1) Hirschhorn laboratory:

Human genetics provide clues about important biology: genetic studies of disease often point to genes that encode the sites of action for known therapies, and in some cases have suggested new avenues for therapy or intervention.  We hope to use human genetics to identify biological factors that are important, by using comprehensive genetic and genomic studies to discover novel genetic risk factors and connect these with biological pathways.  

So far, through our efforts in the Genetic Investigation of ANthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium, we have identified over 100 locations in the genome that influence different measures of obesity.  The laboratory also focuses on more general principles related to improving the performance and interpretation of genetic studies of human traits and disease, such as using height as a model genetic trait.  Other diseases being studied in the lab with human genetic approaches include asthma and diabetic kidney disease.

2) Kalaany laboratory:

The Kalaany lab is focused on identifying the mechanisms underlying the association of obesity/type 2 diabetes and cancer.  Evidence for a robust correlation between systemic metabolism and cancer incidence and progression has been accumulating for over a century. This correlation has been estimated to account, in the United States, for 14% and 20% of all deaths from cancer in men and women, respectively. 

Our recent work has unveiled a key role for the PTEN/PI3K pathway in determining tumor sensitivity to dietary restriction at early stages of tumor formation. Our laboratory aims at understanding how signaling pathways, such as PI3K/PTEN, influence tumor initiation and maintenance in the context of obesity and the metabolic syndrome and whether such an effect can be exploited therapeutically.

3) Stylopoulos laboratory:

The Stylopoulos laboratory uses many gastrointestinal weight loss surgery rodent models to study weight loss procedures (e.g., Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, gastric banding and other).  These models offer a unique opportunity to unravel mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of surgery on body weight, metabolism, glucose homeostasis, inflammation and cancer.  

By “reverse engineering” the mechanisms by which weight loss surgery induces weight loss, and the resolution of diabetes and other metabolic complications, we will be able to develop less invasive approaches that will utilize the same effective mechanisms without the invasiveness of  surgery. Thus, we aim to eventually “bypass the bypass,” and be able to increase the number of treatment options, including less-invasive options that will allow widespread use in many categories of patients with obesity, including children and adolescents.

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