Health & Medicine

UK receives $11.3 million grant for obesity, heart research

UK Exec. Vice Pres. for Health Affairs Dr. Michael Karpf, right, put on a special t-shirt presented to him by Markey Cancer Center Director Dr. Mark Evers, left, during a morning news conference held at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in Lexington, Ky., Friday, July 12, 2013. UK  announced it's Markey Cancer Center has received a Cancer Center designation from National Cancer Institute which brings it additional federal research money. Only 67 other hospitals have received this designation, with UK being the first in Kentucky. On the right is breast cancer survivor Sally Leukefeld who was treated at UK. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
UK Exec. Vice Pres. for Health Affairs Dr. Michael Karpf, right, put on a special t-shirt presented to him by Markey Cancer Center Director Dr. Mark Evers, left, during a morning news conference held at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in Lexington, Ky., Friday, July 12, 2013. UK announced it's Markey Cancer Center has received a Cancer Center designation from National Cancer Institute which brings it additional federal research money. Only 67 other hospitals have received this designation, with UK being the first in Kentucky. On the right is breast cancer survivor Sally Leukefeld who was treated at UK. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

The University of Kentucky has received an $11.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for research of cardiovascular disease and obesity that officials said helps solidify UK's place as a top research institution in the country.

"We are investing carefully to make sure we stay in that elite company," said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president for health affairs.

The research will focus on the causes of obesity, a chronic health problem in Kentucky, and how it affects other serious medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, said Lisa Cassis, professor and chair of the department of molecular and biomedical pharmacology.

A team of about 25 will work on five projects that include looking at imaging of the heart in obese children and how the body's ability to repair itself after a heart attack is impaired by obesity.

About two-thirds of all Americans are overweight or obese, and the number in Kentucky is even higher, Cassis said.

Taking research from the lab to the bedside can be a long process, Karpf said, but UK is committed to having Kentuckians benefit from the medical discoveries that happen at UK. The research process follows an arc: "We go from molecules to mice to humans," he said.

The grant-financed program is designed to pair junior researchers with mentors who will help them hone their skills so they will be able to apply for grants of their own, Cassis said. When one researcher becomes independently financed, another project will be financed through the grant, she said.

That sort of self-sustaining research is crucial if UK is to enhance its reputation as a top research institution, said Karpf.

"Science is expensive," he said. "The science of today has to be subsidized."

Funding for research is getting increasingly competitive, said Dr. Frederick Debeer, dean of the UK College of Medicine. The $11.3 million grant helps UK stake out its place as the key research institution in the state.

"There is going to be one national-level research university or there is going to be none," in Kentucky Debeer said.

UK is not likely to enter soon the rarefied air of research institutions such as Harvard, but Karpf said, "we think we are in a pretty good spot if we stay focused. It is a competitive game out there."

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