Queen Mary University of London: Tackling the obesity epidemic with new research on metabolism

Researchers in Queen Mary’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry have been awarded £2.67 million in Targeted Transformational Funding by Barts Charity to conduct innovative research in the field of metabolism. The grant will fund five projects, which all share the aim of improving health outcomes for people with obesity and related conditions.

The new research network (called the Barts Metabolism Network) will bring together researchers across the Faculty to investigate how dysregulated metabolism can lead to obesity and the significant long-term health problems that it causes. The network is led by five Co-Principal Investigators (PIs): Professor William Alazawi, Dr Dunja Aksentijevic, Dr Katiuscia Bianchi, Dr Li Chan and Dr Sian Henson.

The need for metabolism research

Each year, overweight and obesity are responsible for at least 2.8 million deaths worldwide (1). Data from Public Health England projects that these conditions and their complications will cost the NHS £9.7 billion each year by 2050 (2). Obesity increases the risk of many other non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, liver and heart disease, and cancer.

Many factors contribute to our risk of developing obesity, including our genes, our metabolism, and the environments in which we live and work. For people with genetic predispositions to obesity, or living in economically deprived areas, weight loss is difficult to achieve and harder to maintain. East London is one of the most ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged populations in the UK, and over one-third of 11-year-olds in East London live with overweight or obesity (3).

Dr Li Chan, Co-PI, is a paediatric endocrinologist and research lead for the Tier 3 complications of excess weight clinic at the Royal London Hospital. Dr Chan highlighted the network’s life course approach and “bench to bedside” focus, saying:

“Our research will address obesity and its complications in a co-ordinated manner, spanning basic science and clinical medicine across paediatrics and older age. The funding is timely and aligns with major recent developments in becoming a national unit for the care of children with severe childhood obesity”.

Breakthrough ideas, lasting solutions

The Barts Metabolism Network hopes that its research will address some of the inequalities associated with obesity and, in turn, improve the care that patients receive. The team will use cutting-edge technologies to foster breakthroughs in science that move the field forward and benefit our local population.

Speaking about the importance of diversity and inclusion, Dr Dunja Aksentijevic said:

“The Barts Metabolism Network will build the capacity of women in science and technology at Queen Mary, as 4 out of 5 co-PIs are female scientists.”

The network will work closely with the members of the Lifelong Health research theme in the Faculty to promote interdisciplinary working and the exchange of ideas.

Dr Sian Henson, Co-PI, said:

“The commitment from Barts Charity allows us to develop and strengthen the existing expertise in metabolism contained within the Faculty.”

Dr Katiuscia Bianchi, Co-PI, said:

“The new network will be a hub for both researchers and scientific infrastructure.”

The team hope to create an internationally competitive programme that will change lives for the better.

Professor William Alazawi, Co-PI, said:

“Ultimately, our vision is of a collaboration of scientists and clinicians dedicated to research that will deepen our understanding of metabolism science and improve the lives of people living with metabolism-related disorders.”