Genome studies set to transform advances in obesity research
Kari North, PhD, professor in the department of epidemiology and Carolina Center for Genome Sciences in the school of public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received the Obesity Society’s Shiriki Kumanyika Diversity and Disparities Leadership Award, given making a significant impact in the field of obesity disparities.
North, who has been with the University of North Carolina’s school of public health since 2002, currently leads the CVD Genetic Epidemiology Computational Laboratory in UNC’s Department of Epidemiology. Her research focuses on genetics and gene interactions with development of cardiovascular diseases.
Endocrine Today spoke with North about her research interests, the genetic profiles of complex diseases, how genome sequencing will continue to grow in prominence for health care and her future work on the multiple causes of obesity.
What was the defining moment that led you to your field?
North: I took a class in biological anthropology my freshman year, and my life was transformed. I couldn’t imagine that you could have a career studying the health of human populations, especially populations all across the world.
What area of research most interests you right now and why?
North: I am interested in studies that investigate obesity as a heterogeneous disease — using innovative molecular genetic approaches to identify the genes and pathways underlying genome-wide association findings to elucidate molecular mechanisms of obesity risk and to establish evidence for impact on health outcomes, specifically in racial/ethnic minority populations that have historically been underrepresented in genetic and clinical databases and for which persistent health disparities for obesity exist.
Have you ever been fortunate enough to witness or to have been part of medical history in the making?
North: I absolutely have been fortunate enough to witness medical history in the making. Being a genetic epidemiologist in the GWAS era, I have taken part in studies that have identified hundreds of genes that underlie complex disease, for example, obesity. Such findings are going to revolutionize the field of obesity and hopefully lead to precision medicine advances.
What do you think will have the greatest influence on your field in the next 10 years?
North: Whole genome sequencing and the availability of hundreds of thousands of whole genome sequences on line. Such data will transform health care advances.
What’s up next for you?
North: My colleagues and I are working on projects that integrate knowledge on genetics, environmental exposures and social factors to garner a better understanding of the causes and consequences of obesity and downstream disease.