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Center for Bioenergetics
Houston Methodist Research Institute
• 2016.01-present: Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in Medicine, Department of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY.
Obesity is becoming an epidemic in both children and adults. Now about 70% adults in US are obese or overweight. Obesity is an independent risk factor for many killer diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. In 2012, the medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at 147-billion dollars. While the best strategy to combat obesity is weight loss, this strategy has not met success due to low patient compliance. Thus, in the face of an increasing obese population, we have to set up a second line of defense and target medical complications of obesity. Understanding the mechanisms linking obesity to its related diseases is critical for providing new insights to overcome the harmfulness of this condition. Obesity induces adipose tissue inflammation, which leads to systemic insulin resistance, and has a crucial role in the progression of diabetes and heart failure. But researchers have not understood what triggers the inflammation, or why. My recent studies have identified a root cause of the obesity-induced adipose tissue inflammation. We found that a high calorie diet causes fat cells to act as if under pathogenic attack. The overfed fat cells produce MHCII, a complex of proteins normally produced during pathogenic attack, to activate nearby T cells, eventually leading to inflammation. We are trying to suppress adipose inflammation by targeting interaction between obese adipocytes and T cells. Our long-term objective is to identify mechanisms for obesity-induced adipose inflammation, with an ultimate goal of feasible immune-therapy for obesity-related diseases.