UW News

November 6, 2003

One of five centers for bariatric surgery research here

The UW has been designated as one of five centers nationwide to participate in the National Institutes of Health Bariatric Surgery Clinical Research Consortium. The grant, administered by the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, totals $1.5 million over five years to help develop research programs in surgery for the treatment of obesity.

The research projects funded by this grant will deal with several aspects of obesity surgery, possibly including the effects of stomach bypass surgery on gut chemicals that regulate appetite and the effects of such surgery on other clinical diseases, such as liver failure and diabetes.

Dr. David Flum, assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and principal investigator for the center, said the grant links six medical centers across the country, pooling their individual efforts in understanding the best ways to perform obesity surgery. The researchers also plan to study what cellular mechanisms are involved in weight-loss surgery and the long-term effects of the surgery on patients and disease.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to build on the strong research programs at the University of Washington, by linking up with other centers engaged in similar work and using the power of the NIH to advance the science behind this surgery,” Flum said. ”Recent estimates suggest that 10 million Americans are eligible for this procedure. The science needs to catch up with the increasing demand.”

Flum and his colleagues, working at the UW, Virginia Mason Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center, are studying how ghrelin, related to appetite regulation, and another gut-derived peptide are altered by gastric bypass surgery. They hope to discover just how much the changes in gut peptides after surgery affect appetite and whether this is the main cause of weight loss, aside from the reduction in calories that the gastric bypass enforces. The researchers hypothesize that the surgery isolates the ghrelin-producing cells in the stomach from contact with food, inhibiting the production of the peptide.

“There has been intriguing evidence that the gastric bypass operation works in part because of alterations in these chemicals,” Flum said. “Identifying the elements of the surgical technique that gain the biggest change in these chemicals may be our best way to optimize the effects of the surgery.”

The Bariatric Surgery Clinical Research Consortium (BSCRC) will coordinate and provide infrastructure for clinical, epidemiological, and behavioral research in the field of bariatric surgery through the cooperative development of common clinical protocols and a bariatric surgery database. The Consortium will also provide the preliminary data and background for further investigator-initiated research.