One of the most alarming health trends in America today is the prevalence of adult obesity. It is estimated that more than a third of adult US residents are obese, which puts them at risk for a number of chronic and potentially life-threatening diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
During a press conference at UT Brownsville last Monday, October 13, a number of academic leaders from the University of Texas System and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley announced the establishment of a new and collaborative South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute, which was created to bridge today’s rapidly evolving science and research, and community health care. It was also announced that the University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg will be working closely with UTB to create UTRGV in Summer 2015, whose School of Medicine is set to open in Fall 2016.
Dr. Sarah Williams-Blangero is now the director of the UTRGV South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute. She was the former Chair of the Department of Genetics at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in biological anthropology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her expertise will be essential in the selective gathering of over 20 doctoral-level investigators and staff to conduct novel studies on obesity and diabetes. Since 2010, this dynamic group of specialists in precision science, genetics and several other aspects of research has garnered over $200 million worth of grants from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Williams-Blangero’s group of researchers will be a perfect complement to the upcoming new medical school, and will surely elevate learning opportunities alongside effective community and national-level health care.
The team is working on a long-term study design that will examine the role of genetics in large, extended families, such as those of Hispanics, which as a minority group has been noted to be more at risk for developing diabetes by 30%. The state of Texas is known to have the second largest Hispanic population in the country, and is expected to have a 75% increase in overweight and obese residents by the year 2040. The new institution will also allow closer collaborative studies with other allied health courses such as UTB’s College of Nursing. Dr. Anne Rentfro, one of the team’s diabetes research specialists believes it is important that the “frontliners of healthcare” — nurses — have easy access to the latest updates.
In other obesity and diabetes news, a breakthrough study from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston discovered people with higher levels of brown adipose tissue (“brown fat“) in their body have better blood glucose control, higher insulin sensitivity and a better metabolism for burning stored fat.