The mission of the Obesity Unit, within the Institute of Diabetes Obesity and Metabolism, is to increase collaboration among Penn’s diverse faculty who are studying obesity. The Unit will encourage multi-disciplinary research that brings together basic and clinical scientists who are investigating the etiology, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment of this disorder. This approach will include an examination of socio-cultural and economic factors that contribute to obesity, as well as an assessment of the health and socio-economic consequences of this disorder.
The Obesity Unit is directed by Dr. Rex Ahima, Associate Professor of Medicine.
Obesity Research at Penn
Research on ingestive behavior and obesity has a long tradition at the University of Pennsylvania, dating back to the early 1950s. Dr. Eliot Stellar investigated the neural basis of feeding in laboratory animals, while Dr. Mickey Stunkard launched his program of clinical research to help patients who suffered from obesity and related eating disorders. This early collaboration between a basic and a clinical scientist provided an enduring model for research in this area.
Today, dozens of investigators at Penn are studying obesity, as the prevalence of this disorder has grown and now threatens our nation’s physical and economic well being. Obesity research at Penn is remarkably diverse, reflecting the complexity of this disorder and the many disciplines from which it may be studied. These include genetics, physiology, medicine, epidemiology, psychology, anthropology, and economics – to list but a few.
The accompanying figure shows 12 areas of obesity research that are being pursued by multiple investigators at Penn, including those from the Schools of Medicine, Arts and Sciences, Nursing, and Veterinary Medicine, as well as the Annenberg School and the Wharton School. Additional investigators work at Penn-affiliated institutions including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Monell Chemical Sciences Institute, and the Wistar Institute. The campus has a remarkable diversity and wealth of expertise with which to address the multi-faceted problems posed by the obesity epidemic.
Facilitating Collaboration Among Penn’s Obesity Investigators
Collaboration among investigators will be facilitated by creation of the 12 working groups, shown in the figure. Each working group is likely to have at least 6 to 12 members, whose activities will be organized by a chairperson. Chairs will have periodic meetings of their working groups, as well as regular e-mail contact, to discuss research topics of interest. Faculty are welcome to participate in multiple working groups.
Chairs of the 12 working groups will comprise the Penn Obesity Advisory Board. This Board will capture the full diversity of obesity research at Penn and will examine opportunities for new collaborations, particularly in response to announcements from NIH and other agencies. It also will develop priorities for research, including the purchase of needed equipment, and will administer a small grants program, designed for new investigators. The Advisory Board also will be responsible for sponsoring a monthly colloquium in which members of the different working groups will present their research (on a rotating basis). Each of the 12 groups will be responsible for one presentation per year. Outside speakers and consultants will be invited as appropriate.
The Obesity Unit is closely related to the Obesity focus area of the DRC.
Obesity Unit Members