Obesity negatively affects the entire body – no organ system is left untouched. It increases a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, certain cancers and many other conditions. If the current trend of expanding waistlines continues, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least one in five Americans will be diabetic by the year 2050.
The goal of the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes (TRI), a collaboration between Florida Hospital and Sanford-Burnham, is to alter this course by translating basic scientific discoveries in the laboratory to usable information and products that improve the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases – especially obesity and diabetes.
“At the moment, there is a big gap between what we know and what we want to know about human metabolism, obesity and diabetes. Our ultimate goal in translational research is to bridge that gap,” says Dr. Steven R. Smith, TRI’s scientific director and professor at Sanford-Burnham. “As basic researchers continue to unravel the molecular underpinnings of these diseases, TRI will be conducting proof-of-concept experiments to validate new drug targets and test new therapies for safety and efficacy.”
When it opens in January 2012, the TRI’s new three-story facility in Orlando, Florida will contain a research clinic, imaging technology, a biorepository for sample collection and storage, and several other resources for metabolic studies. But the facility’s highlight will be the calorimeter rooms – small dormitory-style rooms outfitted with a bed, treadmill and toilet. These whole-room calorimeters will allow the TRI staff to measure fat and carbohydrate oxidation and energy expenditure as a person goes about his or her normal life – sleeping, eating, walking, etc. As the patient exercises on the treadmill, scientists will be able to measure his or her oxygen consumption and calories burned without using invasive tubing or sensors. This approach will provide superior comfort – and therefore generate more accurate data – during exercise.
The TRI will also house two smaller rooms, each one only slightly larger than a single bed. These resting metabolic rooms – the first of their kind – will allow researchers to analyze oxygen usage and carbon dioxide output in a way that cannot be done in a larger room or by using existing portable machinery. The door will seal and as the patient simply lies in bed watching television, TRI scientists will be able to analyze how the person’s whole-body metabolism operates under normal conditions, including nutrient oxidation and maximal oxygen consumption (also known as VO2 max or aerobic capacity). What’s more, they will also be able to measure how these factors are influenced by hormones, drugs or other environmental triggers.
To make the best use of all the data they will generate, the TRI is also building a superior informatics platform to collect and analyze their own research data, as well as personal and sample information for thousands of Florida Hospital patients. This database will help TRI, Florida Hospital and Sanford-Burnham scientists to better correlate patient information with data collected through laboratory research in Sanford-Burnham’s metabolomics laboratory – supporting Dr. Smith’s belief that translational research requires bidirectional communication from the bench to the bedside and back.
Read more at “Translational Research Institute Creates Calorimeter Lab” (Drug Discovery & Development, May 13, 2011) and visit the TRI website to view the latest construction photos. More artistic renderings of the TRI calorimetry suite are shown below.