Research conducted at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) may eventually explain and help prevent the chronic health conditions that often accompany obesity.
Wei Ying, a second-year PhD student in the Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology Department (VTPP) at the CVM, won an American Heart Association Pre-Doctoral Award for his work in this area. The award, spread out over two years, totals $50,000.
“This is a prestigious award for a graduate student,” said Beiyan Zhou, VTPP Assistant Professor and co-chair of Ying’s Ph.D. committee.
“We are excited to see Wei Ying recognized for his talent, future potential, and the quality of this work in a supportive research environment,” Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine, said. “This work is important with implications in many species. This award speaks to his excellence as well as that of his faculty mentors.”
“I’m very lucky,” Ying said. “Not many students would have these opportunities.”
Ying, who works in Zhou’s lab, came to the CVM from the Animal Science Department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He originally wanted to create leaner, higher quality beef, and that interest led him to his current research into human weight gain and obesity.
“Obesity is an epidemic worldwide that contributes to adverse health outcomes, including insulin resistance, type II diabetes mellitus, obstructive sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, stroke, hypertension and certain types of cancer (such as colon and breast cancers), and cardiovascular diseases that are collectively referred to as metabolic syndrome,” said Fuller Bazer, Regents Fellow, Distinguished Professor & O. D. Butler Chair, Physiology of Reproduction, Department of Animal Science and co-chair of Ying’s Ph.D. committee.
“Ying’s study represents the true spirit of the One Health Initiative,” said Dr. Bhanu Chowdhary, Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies at the CVM. “The interdisciplinary research focus he and mentors have developed will potentially lead to discoveries that improve the health of both animals and humans. It is an important area of research with broad impacts on human and animal health, and this recognition from the American Heart Association is well-deserved.”
Specifically, Ying is focusing on the role of tiny RNA strands called microRNA that are thought to indirectly lead to metabolic syndrome. These little pieces of genetic material influence the abundance of a type of cell called the macrophage. Although macrophages are a normal and important part of the immune system, in obese people they seem to have the negative effect of increasing the inflammation that can lead to insulin resistance and development of metabolic syndrome.