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$1.5M NIH Grant to Examine Role of Copper in Heat Generation, Fat Burning

By Samantha Watters

A $1.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will fund a University of Maryland researcher’s ongoing exploration of the role of copper in the body’s adaptive response to cold, and its likely connection to an individual’s metabolism and fat-burning abilities.

Byung-Eun Kim, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences and lead investigator on this grant, studies the importance of copper and copper transport routes for the health of humans and animals alike. Preliminary research over the last few years in his lab, including a high-profile paper he co-authored in Science, laid the groundwork for the current award.

“My lab found some preliminary results showing that copper needs to be imported into the adipose tissues [or body fat] to adapt and produce heat. Burning fatty acids helps you produce heat when you need it most, and copper seems to be essential to that process,” he said. “With this grant, we want to explore these mechanisms more to see how it all connects to health problems like Ohypothermia, and even obesity and diabetes.”

Kim plans to use genetics, cell biology and pharmacology to examine the mechanisms involved more closely. The idea for this new area of research was born out of an overlooked phenomenon in patients with Menkes disease—their increased susceptibility to hypothermia. Patients born with Menkes disease quickly become copper-deficient all throughout their bodies, leading to heart and neurological issues, and often die within the first few years of their lives.

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