The rapidly increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes world-wide, particularly in children, has been rightly described as a health epidemic. In the ‘Laboratory of the Genetics of Obesity and Diabetes’ we use genetics as a tool to gain insight into novel pathways promoting obesity and diabetes. Genetic factors largely determine which individuals will develop obesity and/or diabetes in the context of a lifestyle of diets high in fat and carbohydrate and reduced exercise. However, the identities of most of these factors, and thus the underlying molecular alterations, are unknown. Years of analyses of the genes and pathways that have functions related to our understanding of the disease process have identified very few genetic factors that determine obesity or diabetes susceptibility in the general population.
Genetic linkage studies survey the whole genome to identify regions that are associated with a particular disease or trait such as body weight or blood glucose levels. Genes are identified based on their location within these regions, not because they have a function we previously know or suspect to be associated with the disease. These studies can therefore identify new genes and pathways leading to disease. Such discoveries provide a new window into our understanding of disease pathophysiology and suggest potential new strategies for the development of better therapeutics.
The goals of the laboratory are to discover novel genetic factors contributing to the development of obesity and diabetes. Our research is focussed on identifying these genes and studying their function. Our studies utilize genetic, molecular, cellular, and physiological approaches to gain a better understanding of the specific biological pathways that lead to the development of obesity and diabetes. This knowledge will suggest new ways therapies can be designed to treat these diseases. These studies may also enable us to better diagnose or classify individuals at higher risk of developing these diseases, which would allow us to treat these individuals sooner and with the most appropriate therapy, to prevent the development of severe disease. This may delay or even prevent the development of many of the debilitating complications associated with obesity and diabetes.