Obesity has become a global health and economic issue owing to the chronic medical complications associated with excessive weight. Thus, it is a clinical imperative to gain a greater understanding on how our brains are wired to control our eating habits and weight gain, in an effort to reverse the obesity epidemic.
A key region in our brain, the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS), is responsible for receiving and processing meal information. A variety of nerve cells (neurons) located in this region pass on this information to other brain appetite centres by making and releasing diverse chemicals.
My research focuses on understanding which neurons within the NTS function to suppress appetite and how they establish a feeling of fullness following a meal. I generated preliminary data using state of the art technology by which I can place in neurons a fluorescent protein that enables them to be seen, mapped and turned on or off on demand. These data show that artificially turning on discrete NTS neurons can trick the brain into believing that food has been consumed, and hence reduce food intake and body weight.
Using the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF), I will devise a means to develop a technological advance to identify specific neurons controlling appetite within the NTS and the chemicals they make. These new tools will not only provide crucial information about how the brain regulates appetite, but will provide an important springboard to my career development, significantly strengthening my fellowship applications and increasing my international standing within the obesity field.
The ISSF will provide the resources to create a technological and scientific advance; providing novel insights into the global health epidemic.