With 74 percent of the U.S. male population and 67 percent of the female population considered overweight or obese, America’s obesity epidemic is considered by many, the greatest health challenge our nation has yet to face. As obesity rates continue to rise, so does the focus on obesity research, and at the cutting edge of this research is Nader G. Abraham, Ph.D., Dr. H.C., FAHA, professor of medicine and pharmacology.
In September, Dr. Abraham received from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) a $502,883 federal grant for his research which seeks to understand how obesity contributes to increases in blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance, with the aim of identifying genetic and molecular mechanisms that can control the detrimental outcomes of obesity. “Our studies will examine the characteristics fat cells and will use conventional and target-specific drugs to improve the function of the fat cells and consequently ameliorate and prevent the development of obesity-driven hypertension and cardiovascular diseases,” he explains.
Detailing the debilitating effects of this epidemic, Dr. Abraham states “Obesity has earned the name ‘the silent disease’ because its adverse effects are insidious in the development of cardiovascular disease including hypertension, heart failure, and stroke as well as diabetes. As obesity rates continue to rise, obesity-driven diseases are expected to increase as well as the financial cost to the taxpayer in the form of increased healthcare and hospital costs, including the time and energy of medical professionals.”
This most recent NIH grant comes on the heels of a first-of-its kind, NIH-funded obesity study in which Dr. Abraham, along with the lead author Salomon Amar, D.D.S., Ph.D., Provost for Biomedical Research and Chief Biomedical Research Officer, Touro College and University System, Professor of Pharmacology, Microbiology and Immunology and Dental Medicine at New York Medical College (NYMC) and Touro College of Dental Medicine at NYMC, found a link between obesity and periodontitis, a serious and common gum infection caused by poor oral hygiene. “For the first time ever we found evidence that bacteria can affect fat cells,” explains Dr. Abraham.
An internationally-recognized researcher in his field, Dr. Abraham began his career as an independent investigator after completing his postdoctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University, where he was intimately involved in the isolation and identification of a unique protein, namely heme oxygenase, which breaks down the heme molecule in our body. In fact, Dr. Abraham was the first to uncover a critical role for the heme oxygenase anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties in counteracting the detrimental effects of obesity. “This protein has become the focus of my research for the last four decades in humans and in animal studies,” he says, “I, along with my amazing team of students, medical fellows and colleagues working in my laboratory, were the first to isolate and sequence the first 10 amino acids of the human heme oxygenase.”
Dr. Abraham’s enthusiasm and passion is evidenced today as much as when he first began his career 40 years ago, Dr. Abraham says, “My biggest hope is that our studies will lead to new drugs in this epidemic phenomenon of obesity. Moreover, I hope that I will be able to transfer this knowledge to the next generation of investigators who will take this field to the next step toward understanding genetic modifiers of obesity prevalence.”