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(left to right) Ohio University graduate student Lucila Sackmann Sala; Gabriel A. Martos-Moreno, M.D., Ph.D., pediatric endocrinologist in the Department of Endocrinology at the Hospital Infantil Universitario Niño Jesús in Madrid, Spain; and John Kopchick, Ph.D., professor of molecular and cellular biology at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine and Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar, discuss test results in Kopchick’s laboratory at the Edison Biotechnology Institute.

Spanish medical researcher teams with OU-COM in the fight against childhood obesity

by Kevin M. Sanders
March 17, 2008


In recent years Americans have gotten the bad news: our children — as the rest of us — are getting fatter. More than 20 percent of the adult American population is overweight and/or obese, and the percentage of overweight children is approaching these numbers. The rest of the industrialized world — not as flush in fast foods and video gaming — seemed to be not so fat.  

But childhood obesity is on the rise in Spain and other countries as well, says Gabriel A. Martos-Moreno, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric endocrinologist who is joining John Kopchick, Ph.D., at the Edison Biotechnology Institute and Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) to continue his research of the alarming problem at Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute. Working with Kopchick, who is a professor of molecular and cellular biology and Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar at OU-COM, Martos-Moreno will spend the next several months seeking to unlock the molecular and genetic keys of the spreading health problem. Kopchick, an established pioneer in the human growth hormone field, has for the last several years been studying the genetic and molecular basis for obesity and diabetes. Martos-Moreno and Kopchick met at a conference in Seville in 2004. Kopchick has been a friend and colleague of Martos-Moreno’s boss, Jesus Argente, M.D., for several years.

“In Europe and particularly in Spain, obesity was thought to be a problem abroad. We had always thought of it as a problem for Americans,” says Martos-Moreno, a fellow in pediatric endocrinology at the Department of Endocrinology of the Hospital Infantil Universitario Niño Jesús in Madrid, Spain. “But (in Spain) we’ve come to realize that not only in adults but for children as well, during the last 20 years obesity has increased its prevalence from about four-and-a-half or five percent to about 15 percent. It’s tripled. It’s a trend quite similar to the one in the United States. The trend lines were nearly parallel. It’s the same problem in both countries.”

Teaming with Martos-Moreno, says Kopchick, will allow him to continue extending his research with human adipose (fat) tissue in search of bio-markers of obesity and diabetes, which are highly correlated with each other.

In Kopchick’s Edison laboratory, Martos-Moreno will be studying serum (blood) samples of his Spanish patients — both before and after weight losses.

Kopchick and his colleagues, Darlene Berryman, Ph.D., and graduate student Lucila Sackmann Sala, will be studying human tissue samples he has received from Dexter Blome, M.D., Ph.D., the chief of plastic surgery at Mt. Carmel East Hospital, a Centers for Osteopathic Research and Education hospital in Columbus. Kopchick will study mouse adipose tissue, as well.

Martos-Moreno and Kopchick will make a range of comparisons of adipose and serum samples at the genetic and molecular levels in order to determine the proteins that are expressed in these tissues as a function of diabetes, pre-diabetes and obesity.

“These investigations can shed a little bit of light on understanding the real expression of proteins in human obesity,” says Martos-Moreno. Both researchers hope their findings will eventually help lead to the development of medicines and therapies effective for treating and, perhaps, even curing obesity and diabetes. Also, protein biomarkers or diagnostics that may be discovered could allow for early detection of pre-diabetes.

As a practicing pediatrician, Martos-Moreno says he came to see that the problems of obese children were not being studied as well as he thought they could be. These patients needed more attention, he says, if they were going to get healthy and stay healthy.

“We’re honored to have Dr. Martos collaborate with us,” says Kopchick, considering he could have chosen other universities to do so. “It’s prestigious for Ohio University to have Dr. Martos here.”

In addition to his laboratory research, Martos-Moreno will work with C. Thomas Clark, D.O., chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at OU-COM. Although he won’t be licensed to practice medicine in the United States, he will be able to observe patients with Clark and will lecture medical students.

“It’s a great privilege to have him as part of the department of pediatrics,” says Clark. “Even though he’ll be limited to education and didactics, it’s a real stimulus for the pediatrics department to have him on board as a visiting professor of pediatrics until he leaves in November.”

Martos-Moreno will also be working in collaboration with Karen Montgomery-Reagan, D.O., associate chairwoman of pediatrics, and Andrew Wapner, D.O., a pediatric diabetologist.

“I wanted to have the experience of living here and seeing the way you work,” says Martos-Moreno, whose stay is funded by the Spanish government. Not only just this single investigation, he says, but to observe a broader range of the ways research is conducted in America.

“Most of all, after meeting John, we both saw a great opportunity to push further a common line of scientific investigation that we shared.”

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