October 30, 2017

Six Inaugural Groundbreaking Projects Funded through the Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Oct. 25, 2017) – Six early-career scientists have joined the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute’s (ACRI) Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention, as the program announces its first wave of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded projects to help make children better today and healthier tomorrow.

“These first six projects reflect the mission of the Center to examine and address issues related to childhood obesity at all levels, including developmental causes, therapeutic treatments, and translation of findings directly to children and their families wherever they reside in Arkansas” said Dr. Judith Weber, director of the multidisciplinary center and professor of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

The Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention was established in 2016 with a $9.4 million NIH Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant award to ACRI.  The grant is part of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program aimed at building research capacities in states that have historically had low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical and translational research. COBRE programs focus on creating thriving research programs with some of the nation’s most promising young scientists, supporting basic, clinical and infrastructure improvements.
The six projects include:

  • Informing policies to address obesity: a systems approach – Michael R. Thomsen, PhD, of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, will study how policy can improve childhood-obesity prevention efforts using a systems-based approach. This project will capitalize on Arkansas’ unique 12-year longitudinal school-based body mass index (BMI) dataset, allowing researchers to track childhood weight status from kindergarten through 10th grade. His team will study how children’s proximity to food stores, restaurants and playgrounds affect obesity, while also examining the effectiveness of existing school-based interventions.
  • Breakfast, energy metabolism and skeletal muscle health in children Jamie I. Baum, PhD, of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Department of Food Science, will determine if eating breakfast proteins improves metabolism, energy balance and skeletal muscle health in obese school-age children. The project’s foundation lies in the concept that obesity is primarily caused by a mismatch in energy intake and energy expenditure. Researchers will test whether increasing dietary protein intake at breakfast will improve whole-body energy metabolism and give children better energy balance.
  • Assessment of oxidative capacity in obese children – Eugenia Carvalho, PhD, of the UAMS Department of Geriatrics, will look at the underlying metabolism and physiology of obesity in children to identify new markers to target therapies for children who face the highest risk for obesity. The project will be the first to evaluate obese prepubertal children to find metabolic parameters that can be used to better understand the pathophysiology behind obesity and insulin resistance in children. The research aims to see whether the proposed markers can be useful in predicting type 2 diabetes development.
  • Probiotic supplementation in obese pregnant women – A feasibility study – Eva Diaz, MD, of the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, will determine the acceptance and compliance associated with a long-term probiotic supplementation in obese pregnant women. The project focuses on the critical period of pregnancy as the first opportunity to intervene to prevent childhood obesity. It has been demonstrated that probiotic intervention during pregnancy can improve maternal metabolism, thereby reducing offspring risk for obesity.


  • FGF-21: An adjunct biomarker for early detection of NAFLD in children – Emir Tas, MD, of the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, will assess the utility of a single blood test to identify pubertal children at risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fatty liver disease occurs when there is too much fat accumulation in the liver. In the beginning, the disease is reversible, but ultimately can lead to permanent and irreversible liver damage if it is not recognized and treated early. Obesity is the leading cause of NAFLD, and the elucidation of an early biomarker (blood test) could help identify children who need to be treated more aggressively earlier to avoid development of the disease.


  • Methods to detect and eliminate outliers in childhood obesity data – Mallik Rettiganti, PhD, of the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, will look at the challenges that come from longitudinal studies, with one major issue being the presence of outlying observations. Outlying observations are those data points that deviate from the rest of the data. These observations can cause incorrect conclusions if they are not properly accounted for. The project will evaluate methods to detect outliers in longitudinal studies in the field of obesity research through systematic examination of Arkansas’ 12-year longitudinal BMI database.

For more information about the Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention, please visit http://www.archildrens.org/research/research-programs-and-centers/obesity-prevention/obesity-prevention

Arkansas Children’s, Inc. is the only health system in the state solely dedicated to caring for children, which allows the organization to uniquely shape the landscape of pediatric care in Arkansas. The system includes a 359-bed hospital in Little Rock with the state’s only pediatric Level 1 trauma center, burn center, Level 4 neonatal intensive care and pediatric intensive care, and research institute as well as a nationally-recognized transport service. It is one of the 25 largest children’s hospitals in the United States and is nationally ranked by U.S. News World & Report in pulmonology and neonatal care. A sister campus is under development in Northwest Arkansas and will bring 233,613 square feet of inpatient beds, emergency care, clinic rooms and diagnostic services to children in that corner of the state. Arkansas Children’s also blankets the state with outreach programs that include telemedicine, mobile health, and school-based health solutions. A private not-for-profit, Arkansas Children’s boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking research and is committed to providing every child with access to the best care available, regardless of location or resources. Founded as an orphanage, Arkansas Children’s has championed children by making them better today and healthier tomorrow for more than 100 years. For more info, visit archildrens.org.

ACRI is a free-standing state-of-the-art pediatric research center which provides a research environment on the ACH campus to foster research and scholarship of faculty members of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who are investigating questions relative to development, disease and treatment as it relates to the health of infants, children and adolescents. Physician and biomedical scientist investigators at ACRI and the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center (ACNC) conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses and preventing disease and thereby, improving the health of the children of Arkansas and beyond.
UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; northwest Arkansas regional campus; statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Myeloma Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and Translational Research Institute. It is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 2,834 students, 822 medical residents and six dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses throughout the state, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.

# # #