Timothy J. Bartness, Regents’ Professor of Biology at Georgia State University, has received a multi-million dollar award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further research into the biological mechanisms of obesity.
The prestigious Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Diseases will provide long-term for his lab’s investigation into the communication loop between fat cells and the brain, which Bartness has researched for the past 26 years with NIH support.
“I am delighted to have received this award,” Bartness said. “The support provided through the MERIT program will allow us to be more innovative in our research, and will aid in increasing our understanding in the field of obesity and metabolic diseases.”
“These awards reflect highly of the reputation and quality of Dr. Bartness’ research,” said Robin Morris, vice president for research at Georgia State University. “The NIH gives these awards very sparingly, and the awards are for researchers like Dr. Bartness who have a long track record of doing cutting-edge and quality work. Georgia State is very proud to have him as a member of our research faculty.”
MERIT is among the most selective research grants given by the NIH, with less than 5 percent of NIH-funded investigators selected as recipients. Previously, 10 researchers from institutions within the University System of Georgia have been selected for MERIT awards. Bartness is the first recipient of the MERIT award at Georgia State. The MERIT award extends NIH support under Bartness’ current 5-year grant to 10 years.
Recently, Bartness, with C. Kay Song of Georgia State, and Gary J. Schwartz of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, found that fat cells give feedback to the brain in order to regulate fat burning, much the same way as a thermostat sends information to the furnace or air conditioner to regulate temperature inside a house.
Using viruses to trace communications in the nerves of Siberian hamsters, they found that the brain uses part of the nervous system used to regulate body functions, called the sympathetic nervous system, to initiate fat burning and then sensory nerves, in turn, communicate back to the brain cells to continue or stop the fat burning depending upon the information the brain receives from the fat.
Other research goals include the study of mechanisms underlying the melatonin-induced changes in body fat and its involvement in the seasonal control of total body. Among others in his lab’s team, Bartness credits Song, a research scientist, with greatly facilitating progress in his research across the past 15 plus years.
“It’s been fun and hard work, and I’ve had a good team,” he said. “This doesn’t happen with me alone, and across the years, her exceptional abilities and continuous work have assisted me in this endeavor.”