Tuesday, April 18, 2017

UK gets $11.2 million, five-year grant to study links between cancer and obesity, two of Kentucky's biggest health problems

Kentucky leads the nation in some forms of cancer, and is among the leaders in obesity. Is there a connection? The federal government is giving the University of Kentucky $11.2 million to explore the connection over the next five years, through a new Center for Cancer and Metabolism.

"The center will focus on the underlying mechanisms that link dysfunctional metabolism to cancer. Recent studies have shown that the mitochondria of cells can influence how aggressive a cancer becomes," Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky ranks first in the nation in incidences of colorectal cancer in men and women, and seventh in deaths. People who are obese are about 30 percent more likely to develop that kind of cancer."

Lisa Cassis, UK's vice president for research, said the grant from the National Institutes of Health will also “enable the university to foster the development of the next generation of scientists who will lead our efforts in translating basic research findings into promising new therapies.”

Cassis said, “Research is at the heart of any progress we hope to make in bridging health gaps in the commonwealth.” She recently crticized the proposed cut of 20 percent to NIH funding in President Trump’s federal budget, saying the move would reduce UK’s federal funding from $92.4 million in 2016 to $75 million, meaning a loss of 219 jobs.

“It is not just reductions in NIH funding that are important; it is the types of research that would be reduced if these reductions were realized,” she wrote. “This is especially important, as health conditions that devastate our citizens exist at higher rates in Kentucky than the rest of the U.S. More Kentuckians die of cancer, and Kentucky ranks in the top 10 in heart attacks, drug deaths, strokes, diabetes, cardiovascular deaths and obesity.”

"UK officials said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell contacted the NIH in support of the grant," Blackford reports. "In March, the Kentucky Republican said he didn’t support Trump’s proposed cuts to medical research funding."

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