MMC receives $1.3M towards obesity study

August 14, 2019
PORTLAND, Maine – Maine Medical Center (MMC) has received $1.3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how changes in the expression of a certain gene affect obesity. The hope is that studies of this gene, known as mesoderm specific transcript (MEST), could someday lead to new strategies for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) Faculty Scientist Robert Koza, Ph.D., has been studying the epigenetic regulation of MEST. Epigenetic processes can determine whether genes are expressed, or “turned on.” Dr. Koza’s previous studies indicate that animals are less likely to become obese on a high-fat diet when MEST is not expressed or expressed at low levels. What scientists have yet to determine is the function of MEST in the body and the precise epigenetic processes that regulate its expression. This study aims to answer those questions.

“Identifying the molecular pathways by which MEST facilitates the expansion of fat mass and regulates blood glucose could be the first step towards a new way to help treat obesity,” Dr. Koza said. “Years from now, these studies may also define new early interventions doctors could take to help patients prevent the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes are a focus of researchers at MMCRI because of their prevalence in Maine. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Maine as having a diabetes rate of 8.5 percent and obesity rate of 30 percent, the highest in New England.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01DK120844. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About Maine Medical Center
Maine Medical Center (MMC), recognized as a Best Regional Hospital by U.S. News and World Report for 2019-2020, is a complete health care resource for the people of Greater Portland and the entire state, as well as northern New England. Incorporated in 1868, MMC is the state’s largest medical center, licensed for 637 beds and employing more than 9,600 people. MMC's unique role as both a community hospital and a referral center requires an unparalleled depth and breadth of services, including an active educational program and a world-class biomedical research center. As a nonprofit institution, Maine Medical Center provides nearly 23 percent of all the charity care delivered in Maine. MMC is part of the MaineHealth system, a growing family of health care services in northern New England. For more information, visit