Thanks to a collaborative, cutting-edge research effort led by West Virginia University researcher Joseph McFadden, WVU was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

McFadden, principal investigator and assistant professor of biochemistry in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, has partnered with Norman Haughey, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to explore the mechanisms responsible for insulin resistance using a non-traditional dairy cow model.

In addition to helping dairy farmers improve cow health by reducing incidents of metabolic disease, this unique research could pave new pathways to understanding and addressing type 2 diabetes in humans.

Obesity caused by increased caloric intake and reduced energy expenditure is a crisis that negatively impacts the health of millions of Americans, including West Virginians. Obese individuals may experience a state of metabolic impairment, which can cause numerous ailments that are collectively referred to as “metabolic syndrome” and include hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance.

These obesity-associated risk factors can result in type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Overweight dairy cattle transitioning from pregnancy to lactation are at an increased risk of developing metabolic diseases, and current evidence suggests that the mechanisms controlling the development of hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance in overweight dairy cattle are comparable to humans.

“To be able to study something that has a dual purpose is really special because we can combat problems that develop in humans and cows,” said McFadden. “I have received a lot of positive feedback from the external community in response to what we are doing.”

This type of multipurpose-driven research is a significant component of WVU’s land-grant mission.

“This grant and Dr. McFadden epitomize what it means to be a faculty member at West Virginia University,” said Melanie Page, associate vice president for Creative and Scholarly Activity in the WVU Research Office. “The work is first and foremost of a significant benefit to the people of West Virginia, while at the same time recognized by peers as world-class and cutting edge.”

“Dr. McFadden formed a strategic partnership for this project, and is a role model for what is being called team science – bringing together experts from varied fields to solve real-world problems. This research will significantly enhance our ability to combat the problems associated with obesity for a healthier West Virginia.”

McFadden appreciates the opportunity, as well as the team that makes it possible. Over 40 undergraduate researchers and about a half dozen graduate students have all touched the project in some form.

“I’m extremely grateful,” he said. “And it couldn’t be done without a great team, which includes both undergraduate and graduate students who have produced a lot of preliminary data. Also, being able to collaborate with Johns Hopkins University – and Norm, a professor of neurology – is pretty unique.”

On a larger scale, McFadden recognizes that this type of collaboration will continue to be the cornerstone for advancing research.

“This is where science is headed,” said McFadden. “It’s certainly more collaborative and transcending disciplines. This collaborative spirit is what makes our interdisciplinary research a possibility.”

The USDA grant, administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, was made through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Foundational Program. Grants were awarded through the Animal Nutrition, Growth, and Lactation program, part of the AFRI Foundational Program, which supports basic and applied research. Research areas include studying how animals use the nutrients in their feed; improving the use of traditional feed; exploring opportunities to use non-traditional feedstuffs; increasing the quality and efficiency of producing meat, milk and eggs; and mitigating metabolic disorders.



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