The population of China is not particularly obese relative to European or North American standards, but it is certainly getting heavier in parallel with the rapid expansion of the "Western diet and lifestyle". Now, 46% of adults in China are overweight or obese. More concerning, however, is the fact that Asian populations tend to develop cardiometabolic complications of overweight and obesity at a lower body mass index than Caucasians. As such, an estimated 110 million people in China are affected by type 2 diabetes mellitus, and 50% of the population has cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms underlying this higher susceptibility remain unclear, so investigating this problem is important as it could have a major impact on public health in China.
Our research programme in Nanjing will focus on elucidating the mechanisms that link obesity to its associated cardiometabolic complications, with a particular focus on genetic factors identified in human populations. The laboratory in Cambridge has proposed two key conceptual paradigms: the adipose tissue expandability model and the concept of lipotoxicity. We have shown that the metabolic comorbidities of obesity typically occur when adipose tissue expansion fails and lipids cannot be stored efficiently. Thus, excess lipids that cannot be stored "spill over" to peripheral organs where the accumulation of lipids causes lipotoxicity. If genetic factors were to limit the expansion capacity of adipose tissue, this process may happen at an earlier stage in weight gain, resulting in the metabolic complications of obesity appearing earlier than expected. This research is relevant for the global obesity epidemic, but may be even more relevant for the obese population in China. Research on these mechanisms in Nanjing will be highly integrated with the research programme in Cambridge, and will benefit from access to the international network of experts collaborating with our laboratory.
Currently, our collaboration with Nanjing is proving more useful than ever, with their great and continued support in the 4CPPE Appeal - read more here. To find out more about this research and the Centre as a whole, visit our website, the Centre's Twitter page, or watch this interview with Prof Vidal-Puig.
TVPLab in Nanjing
The Cambridge University - Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation, in Nanjing, China, is the first research institution established by the University of Cambridge outside of the United Kingdom. The Centre will seek to demonstrate the power of collaboration with China’s Universities, industry, government and other partners to conduct the kind of academic research of excellence today that will make life better for the city dwellers of tomorrow. Ground was broken at the site of the new Centre in September 2019, with research due to commence there this year, including research on the cardiometabolic complications of obesity in Asian populations by the TVPLab.