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$3.8 million grant to establish international resource for mouse-based health studies

By Pat Bailey on September 26, 2011 in

The National Institutes of Health today awarded $3.8 million to the University of California, Davis, to fund a new mouse-based research center devoted to studies of the physiology and genetics of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular health.

A major focus for the new Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center will be cardiovascular disease, which affects more than 82 million Americans, costs an estimated $444 billion annually and is the nation’s leading cause of death.

The new center will provide scientists worldwide with complete physiologic characterizations of mice that have been genetically altered for metabolic studies. It will be one of only six such centers in the United States, and the only one that can create the mice for researchers.

The genetically customized mice have individual genes systematically turned off or “knocked out,” or have a gene ramped up to make them either more prone or more resistant to specific diseases. Such mice play an important role in studying the relationships between specific genes and the complex traits that define a disease.

“Funding for the new center allows us to apply our expertise in mouse biology to specifically address the causes and effects of disease in multiple organ systems that are involved in metabolism, endocrinology, obesity and appetite regulation,” said Kent Lloyd, the grant’s lead researcher. Lloyd is a professor and associate dean for research at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program.

“The detailed mouse model assessments that we will provide through the new center will save significant time in launching new studies focused on developing treatments for these diseases,” Lloyd said.

The mouse assessments will cover everything from mouse behavioral patterns to organ pathophysiology to single-cell and single-molecule studies.

The new funding also will expand UC Davis’ technological capabilities in mouse imaging and behavior, including such sophisticated equipment as devices for measuring a mouse’s feeding frequency and preferences, activity levels and metabolic rate.

“The center will set UC Davis apart when it comes to advancing understanding of the foundations of metabolic disease,” said John Rutledge, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and a co-investigator on the new grant. “Knowing both the genetic deficiencies and the physiological changes they create will give us a clear picture of what these diseases entail and how best to eliminate them.”

Rutledge is an expert in atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries, and in lipid disorders. He is particularly interested in using the new center to study inflammation of the brain’s blood vessels and ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“We will be able to conduct those assessments at such detailed levels that we can finally resolve the debate over whether there is a vascular component to Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

Collaborating in the new center are UC Davis School of Medicine researchers Craig Warden, scientific director of the Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center and a professor of pediatrics, and neurobiology, physiology and behavior; Amparo Villablanca and Nipavan Chiamvimovat, both professors of cardiovascular medicine; Liming Jin, an assistant professor of endocrinology; and Thomas Huser, an adjunct professor of endocrinology.

Collaborators from the School of Veterinary Medicine include clinical professor Stephen Griffey; Peter Havel, a professor of molecular bioscience; Philip Kass, a professor of statistics; Jon Ramsey, an associate professor of molecular bioscience; Helen Raybould, a professor of physiology; and assistant clinical professor Katherine Wasson.

Other collaborators include adjunct assistant nutrition professor Sean H. Adams, a supervisory research physiologist at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center at UC Davis; associate professor of nutrition professor Fawaz Haj; and Mari Golub, an adjunct professor of toxicology.

Collaborating in the center from the College of Engineering is biomedical engineering professor Katherine Ferrara.

Media contact(s)

Pat Bailey, Research news (emphasis: agricultural and nutritional sciences, and veterinary medicine), 530-219-9640,

Kent Lloyd, School of Veterinary Medicine, 530-754-6687,

Karen Finney, School of Medicine Public Affairs, 916-734-9064,