Professors at UI appointed as co-directors of obesity research initiative

Continuing the success of a decade’s work, two UI professors have been appointed as co-directors of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative.


Raquele Decker

Kamal Rahmouni is seen in his office in the Bowen Science Building on Tuesday, February 4, 2020.

Rachel Schilke, News Reporter

The Obesity Research and Education initiative will now work closer with the diabetes center with two new co-directors, continuing research on obesity within many University of Iowa colleges.

UI neuroscience and pharmacology Professor Kamal Rahmouni and Internal Medicine Department Chair E. Dale Abel recently became the new co-directors of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative. This effort continues successful obesity research and works toward a closer partnership with the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center.

The intercollegiate initiative was established in 2011 with the goal of gathering researchers from various fields to enhance obesity research at the UI. Combining with the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, the initiative allows for more members of the UI community to become a part of the research process.

Abel, who also directs the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, said the initiative will continue to support those who have an interest in obesity research.

“Bringing in researchers that span across colleges will increase the diversity of the research and the chance of finding approaches to possibly find a cure,” Abel said.

The Obesity Research and Education Initiative has been effective with not only making discoveries in obesity research, but in bolstering careers for the researchers involved, Abel said.

“We want to build on that momentum, so we continue to be world leaders in the field of obesity,” Abel said.

Rahmouni said around 60 percent of Americans are considered obese or overweight. The Obesity Research and Education Initiative focuses on studying the causes and effects of obesity and its complications, such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and sometimes cancer.

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Rahmouni has completed extensive research on the neurobiology of obesity, answering the fundamental questions of obesity — why one gains weight and why diseases develop because of it.

“Obesity has become an epidemic not only in America, but worldwide,” Rahmouni said. “Even if we cannot cure obesity, we can at least find ways to manage its complications.”

Rahmouni has also served on committees and review panels and worked with national and international organizations focused on obesity research. This was a rewarding experience, he said, as he could contribute to the missions of the organizations.

Abel and Rahmouni — the current Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center endowed chair — made significant progress for only being co-directors for a short time, said Allyn Mark, co-founding director of the UI Obesity Research and Education Initiative.

“Their appointment has already contributed to a major new interaction of the Obesity Initiative and the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, addressing the impact of obesity on the frequency and outlook of a number of types of cancer,” Mark said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Charles Brenner, another co-director of the UI Obesity Research and Education Initiative, said he believed that, after being a founding director of the initiative for almost a decade, he felt secure in the decision to appoint the new directors.

“We are confident in passing the torch to Abel and Rahmouni, and we know that they will lead the Obesity Research and Education Initiative to great success,” Brenner said.

The new co-directors said they have a strategic goal in which they want to open an obesity research center completely funded by the National Institute of Health.

“The initiative has already put Iowa on the map for obesity research,” Rahmouni said. “We want to ultimately create an image of Iowa being the center of research for obesity.”

Giving back to the founding directors and the UI community is something that drives Rahmouni and Abel in their research and now as co-directors of the initiative.

“It is always good to give back to the community, to the university, to the people who have served us as mentors since day one,” Rahmouni said.