Maine Medical Center has received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a genetic study of obesity.

The goal is to learn more about a specific gene, known as mesoderm specific transcript, or MEST, in hopes of developing new strategies to treat obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Robert Koza has been studying the gene at MMC’s Research Institute, specifically its epigenetic process, which can determine whether genes are expressed. Koza has previously found in his research that animals are less likely to become obese on a high-fat diet when the gene is not expressed or is expressed at low levels.

“Identifying the molecular pathways by which MEST facilitates the expansion of fat mass and regulates blood glucose could be the first step towards a new way to help treat obesity,” Koza said in a statement announcing the NIH grant. “Years from now, these studies may also define new early interventions doctors could take to help patients prevent the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes have been a focus of the hospital’s research institute because of their prevalence in Maine. In 2016, Maine’s rate of diabetes, 8.5 percent, and its obesity rate, 30 percent, were the highest in New England, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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