The University of Louisville will reap $16.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to fund research related to diabetes and obesity. UofL campus | Photo by Darla Carter

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a team of researchers at the University of Louisville with more than $16.4 million to study how various environmental factors affect the “development or health impacts of diabetes and obesity,” according to the school.

A handful of researchers at UofL’s Diabetes and Obesity Center will benefit from the  funding to study things like the metabolic and inflammatory mechanisms leading to diabetes, obesity and insulin resistance; stem cell biology; and the environmental determinants of cardiometabolic disease.

“It’s a very exciting time right now,” said Matthew Nystoriak, one of the researchers involved. “A number of our investigators are really taking off, and I think it’s going to lead to some really new and exciting findings in the future.”

Kentucky has some of the worst rates of obesity and diabetes in the country. As of 2017, more than 34 percent of Kentucky adults were obese and nearly 13 percent of Kentucky adults had diabetes, according to this year’s State of Obesity Report, a joint project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“When we have problems like this, it’s important that we look at the genetic components as well as the nongenetic or environmental factors,” Bendapudi said during Monday’s announcement.

In a news release, Bendapudi said UofL works daily to understand the causes and impact of obesity and diabetes, “so that we can develop the next generation of preventions, cures and treatment.”

The funding announcement was made Monday at the Abell Building. | Photo by Darla Carter

At the announcement, Bendapudi said the funding comes at a time when the overall pool of money is dwindling and there’s heavy competition, “so this is double credit to our team.”

The Diabetes and Obesity Center is part of the Envirome Institute, and both are led by researcher Aruni Bhatnagar, who said the team will be tackling some of the most important health problems.

More than 30 million people nationwide have diabetes, including more than seven million people who are undiagnosed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many people with diabetes and obesity or both go on to develop other problems, such as heart trouble.

Matthew Nystoriak, a UofL assistant professor of medicine | Photo by Darla Carter

Nystoriak is researching the process by which blood vessels in the heart sense the need for more oxygen to the heart muscle.

“There’s this basic physiological mechanism that the blood flow has to increase,” such as when you’re climbing the stairs, “or there’ll be this mismatch between the amount of oxygen it needs and what’s actually supplied and that could lead to a dysfunction of the heart muscle,” Nystoriak said.

In a number of disease states, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure, there’s clinical evidence that this response is impaired, and “so what we want to do is first study at the molecular and cellular level how this works under normal conditions, so that we can better understand how these disease processes might be affected,” he said.

Some other topics of study will include the effects of air pollution on stem cell health and how exercise can reduce inflammation.