NRI principal investigator Saroja Voruganti, PhD, has received a 2020 Cross Border Collaboration Award from the Center for Global Health Studies (CGHS) at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Fogarty International Center (FIC). The awards support research partnerships, in part, between U.S. and Latin American investigators that address childhood obesity prevention.

Childhood obesity is widely prevalent in the US (18.5% in Whites and 25.8% in Hispanics) but is surpassed by Mexico, the most obese country in the world, with 24.6% of children being obese. Both genetics and diet play a key role in how obesity develops. The incorporation of genetic and genomic information into biomedical research, clinical practice, and patient treatment is widely accepted and forms the basis for precision medicine. However, the corresponding application of genetic information to nutrition research and practice has yet to reach its full potential, specifically in the case of childhood obesity for which advanced curricula remains scarce in the U.S. as well as Mexico.

With this collaborative grant, Voruganti and fellow Carolina investigator Folami Ideraabdullah, PhD, will team with investigators at Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genomica (INMEGEN) in Mexico to develop and produce a module focused on childhood obesity to add to the NRI’s annual short course in Nutrigenetics, Nutrigenomics, and Precision Nutrition (NGx) to be held next in June 2021 in Kannapolis, NC.

The funded module that will get added to the existing NGx course will increase understanding of the roles genetics, epigenetics and nutrition play in childhood obesity. The sessions will be taught by investigators with expertise in childhood obesity in both the U.S. and Mexico. This module, featuring American and Mexican faculty and students, should initiate discussions and potentially reach a consensus in the direction of improving approaches to prevent obesity in children and/or slowing the rate of its medical complications. “We expect this consensus to be equally applicable and translatable to human health in both the U.S. and Mexico,” says Voruganti. “It also forms a foundation for future publications and NIH grant applications targeting childhood obesity in both countries.”

This collaborative project was selected from a competitive application pool through a trans-NIH review. Reviewers said they felt the proposed work will make a real impact on childhood obesity research across borders. This contract will be administered through CRDF Global.