Georgia State professor receives $2.5 million MERIT Award

Dr. Timothy Bartness, Georgia State University’s Regents’ Professor of Biology and obesity researcher, has been given a $2.5 million renewal of the MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award, according to a May 20 university news release.

Bartness said the five year award will give him the freedom to think outside of the box, because his research won’t be reviewed until another five years. The MERIT award came from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“Really, we have taken it a bit farther, because we have this freedom and are thinking maybe there is no box, so we are ‘coloring outside the lines’. That is we [when we] started four new approaches to the obesity research across the last five years, that we will carry out during the next five,” he said.

Bartness also said his new approaches include using electrophysiological measurement of the sensory nerves from fat to help understand what fat is ‘telling’ the brain, and what causes fat cells to multiply using transgenic mice to understand aspects of bidirectional communication between the brain and adipose tissue (fat).

“[I hope] to gain a deeper understanding of the neural control of adipose tissue distribution (in humans pear shape is a good distribution, apple shape is bad and associated with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, some cancers, some dementias), adipose tissue metabolism, adipose tissue size (fat cell number and fat cell size)…etcetera,” Bartness said.

Bartness became interested in researching obesity 35 years ago when he was studying how animals know what time of the year it is. He also looked at how Siberian hamsters become naturally obese in summer-like days in comparison to winter-like days.

“It was all accidental and shows the beauty and importance of basic science for basic science’s sake. That is, people believe that everyone should study human conditions as directly as possible (ethicsdoesn’t allow many things to be studied in humans),” he said. “There is a lot to be said for that but you never know what can develop out of basic science. …Thus, wanting to know how animals ‘know’ what time it is resulted in us discovering a basic physiological function that has huge clinical importance.”