Resources The Genetics of Obesity: From a UR CTSI Postdoc to a 2018 Pilot Awardee Ying Meng, PhD, RN, a research associate at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, studies how genes can influence weight gain and obesity. Over the past few years, Meng has developed this line of research through two programs at the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UR CTSI): the Population Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship and Pilot Studies Program. As a UR CTSI Population Health postdoctoral fellow, Meng studied how the diets of mothers-to-be interact with several obesity-related genes to impact weight gain during pregnancy, as gaining too much can lead to obesity and negative health outcomes later in life for both moms and babies. Meng’s postdoctoral research, for which she won a poster award at the Obesity Society’s 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting, showed that pregnant mothers’ fat intake could modify the effect of a specific obesity-related gene. Women who consumed a highfat diet gained more weight during pregnancy if they carried a specific genotype. Her study points to the importance of understanding interactions between diet and genes to create personalized weight management programs for pregnant women who may be at risk for excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Now, Meng is conducting a pilot project with funding from the UR CTSI to understand the relationship between addiction-related genes and obesity. The brain’s food reward system which considerably overlaps with the reward circuitry for substance addiction, is responsible for overeating – especially sweet and fatty food.
The reward for such palatable food can override normal appetite signals, leading people to eat more than they need. We do not yet know which genes might be linked to food reward circuitry in humans, but Meng hopes to change that. She plans to conduct a large genetic study to see if any addiction-related genes are associated with poor eating habits and obesity in adult and child volunteers. Though this is just a first step, she hopes identifying a set of genes could help healthcare providers develop new and better approaches to manage obesity.
UR CTSI Annual Report 2017–18
Annual report for the University of Rochester Clinical & Translational Science Institute.