ADORE: A Unified Alliance Addressing the Complexity of Diabetes and Obesity

In Kentucky, more than 36 percent of the adult population is obese, and nearly 14 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes. Due to the complexity of both diabetes and obesity, these issues are difficult to address – and impossible to solve – when focused through only one lens.

The Alliance for Diabetes and Obesity Research (ADORE) is a team of nearly 50 University of Kentucky researchers and clinicians from multiple departments and colleges combining their knowledge to better understand diabetes and obesity, which have been named Research Priority Areas by the UK Office of the Vice President for Research. This Alliance is supported by the College of Medicine, the Diabetes and Obesity Research Priority Area, and the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center, with clinical research support from the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS). 

ADORE is one of 18 multidisciplinary teams supported by the University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s Alliance Research Initiative, a unified approach for finding innovation solutions to health challenges that disproportionately affect Kentuckians.

“Everybody approaches diabetes and obesity from different angles, whether it’s a focus on the fat cell, muscle, the beta cell, lifestyle, or other factors,” Philip Kern, MD, one of ADORE’s principal investigators, said. “We have people in our Alliance who are doing all pieces of that. Our team is not laser-focused on just one thing. We’re actually having people study multiple aspects, all of which contribute to an understanding of a very complex disease.”

“Diabetes affects every organ in your body, and it affects those organs in different ways,” John Fowlkes, MD, another principal investigator, added. “So there is a lot of expertise at UK in understanding how diabetes can cause complications of various organs and tissues.”

The ADORE team is led by five investigators – four from the College of Medicine and one from the College of Health Sciences – who possess extensive experience in leadership, research, and clinical care: Dr. Kern, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science; Dr. Fowlkes, professor of pediatrics and director of the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center (BBDC); William Inabnet, MD, chair of surgery and surgeon-in-chief, UK HealthCare; Barbara Nikolajczyk, PhD, professor of pharmacology and nutritional sciences and associate director for translational research in diabetes at BBDC; and Charlotte Peterson, PhD, Joseph Hamburg Endowed Professor in the College of Health Sciences and director of the Center for Muscle Biology.

The Alliance Research Initiative’s structure allows ADORE team members, both new and more experienced, to join forces on grants and projects, augmenting the acquisition of important research funding while preparing junior faculty for future research activities.

The success of ADORE is evident in its six-month report, which showed that the team had produced more than 20 publications, with a majority of them involving more than one Alliance member.

Since its start, the team has received three grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): a $3.4 million R01 grant obtained by Julie Pendergast, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences with Dr. Kern, studying the circadian regulation and time-restricted eating on metabolic risk in mice and women; a $1.3 million R01 to Dr. Peterson and Kate Kosmac, PhD, College of Health Sciences, looking into novel gastrocnemius muscle characteristics in peripheral artery disease patients; and a grant to Dr. Nikolajczyk and Dr. Kern researching biological mechanisms of metformin effects on aging-associated inflammation.

Both Dr. Pendergast and Dr. Kosmac are junior investigators, and other junior investigators in ADORE have recently received awards. Eva Kalaitzoglou, MD, in pediatric endocrinology has received a K08 award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to study muscle-bone interactions in diabetes. Suzanna Attia, MD, MScPH, in pediatric gastroenterology will be a BIRCWH scholar to study prevention of malnutrition in maternal and child health. Dr. Attia also studies obesity and fatty liver disease. Samir Softic, MD, in pediatric gastroenterology studies sugar metabolism as it relates to fatty liver disease and has received a young investigator award from the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN), along with funds from Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. Kevin Murach, PhD, in Health Sciences has received a K99 from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to examine skeletal muscle mass with aging.

Thanks to the Alliance Research Initiative, Dr. Nikolajczyk, Dr. Fowlkes, Dr. Kalaizoglou, and Jamie Sturgill, PhD, also received a combined $5 million in funding from other outlets in fiscal year 2021, and dozens of ADORE team members have grants pending.

“We do have one of the biggest memberships of the Alliances, and it’s because you can bring in basic scientists and clinicians who are interested in different organs and systems in the body because they’re all affected by diabetes,” Dr. Peterson said. “So we’re trying to be very inclusive and allow a broad approach in order to actually address the issue of consequences to your health from diabetes and obesity.”

As diabetes and obesity continue to impact the Commonwealth, ADORE team members will continue to capitalize on their different skills to acquire more key funding and learn how to help improve Kentucky health.

For more information about ADORE or our other Alliance teams, visit www.med.uky.edu/alliance.

ADORE Alliance Team Members

  • Susan Amelang, PA-C – Department of Pediatrics
  • Donna Arnett, PhD, Professor and Dean – College of Public Health
  • Suzanna Attia, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Pediatrics
  • Makenzie Barr, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Agriculture
  • John A. Bauer, PhD, Professor – Department of Pediatrics
  • Clay Bunn, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Pediatrics
  • Kenneth Campbell, PhD, Professor – Department of Physiology
  • Jody Clasey, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Education
  • Bernard Evers, MD, Director, Markey Cancer Center – Department of Surgery
  • Brian Finlin, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Kyle Flack, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Agriculture​
  • John Fowlkes, MD, Professor and Director Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center– Department of Pediatrics/Endocrinology
  • Christopher Fry, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • George Fuchs, MD, Professor – Department of Pediatrics
  • Gregory Graf, PhD, Professor – College of Pharmacy
  • Zhenheng Guo, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences
  • Erin Haynes, PhD, Professor – College of Public Health
  • Terry Hinds, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences​
  • Barry Inabnet, MD, Chair and Professor – Department of Surgery
  • Eva Kalaitzoglou, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Pediatrics/Endocrinology
  • Wendy Katz, PhD, Scientist – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences
  • Philip A. Kern, MD, Professor and Director, Center for Clinical and Translational Science  – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Analia Loria Kinsey, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences
  • Kate Kosmac, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • James Lee, MD, Associate Professor – Department of Radiology
  • Francesc Marti, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Surgery
  • John McCarthy, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Physiology
  • Gia Mudd-Martin, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor – College of Nursing
  • Amy Meadows, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Psychiatry
  • Margaret Murphy, PhD,  Dietician Consultant – Department of Pediatrics
  • Barbara Nikolajczyk, PhD, Professor – Department of Pharmacology/Nutritional Sciences
  • Sabire Ozcan, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry
  • Kevin Pearson, PhD, Professor – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences
  • Julie Pendergast, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Arts and Sciences
  • Charlotte Peterson, PhD, Endowed Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • Aurelia Radulescu, MD, Associate Professor – Department of Pediatrics
  • Vivek M. Rangnekar, PhD, Professor – Department of Radiation Medicine
  • Cetewayo Rashid, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Pharmacology/Nutritional Sciences
  • Scott Roth, MD, Professor – Department of Surgery
  • Susan Smyth, MD, PhD Professor and Division Chief – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Samir Softic, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Pediatrics/Gastroenterology
  • Marlene Starr, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Surgery
  • Jamie Sturgill, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Hollie Swanson, PhD, Professor – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences
  • Lisa Tannock, MD, Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Kathryn Thrailkill, MD, Professor – Department of Pediatrics/Endocrinology
  • Crystal Totten, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Surgery
  • Shuxia Wang, PhD, Professor – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences
  • Lovoria Williams, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Nursing​
  • Frederique Yiannikouris, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences