TOPS Club funds obesity research as Medical College center evolves with new avenues of study
Feb. 26, 2013 College News - A new era of exciting research is developing under enthused leadership at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s TOPS Obesity and Metabolic Research Center. Headquartered in Milwaukee, TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) recently continued its generous support of obesity research at the College with a $205,000 gift.
“It’s really been a wonderful history that goes back for decades – a partnership between a grassroots organization in the community and members giving back through involvement in research,” said Roy L. Silverstein, MD, the Linda and John Mellowes Professor and Chairman of Medicine and Interim Director of the TOPS Obesity and Metabolic Research Center. “And over that era, millions of dollars have been raised for metabolic research at the Medical College and elsewhere.”
The TOPS Research Center recently mourned the loss of its founder, who built a research program and relationship with TOPS that has endured for more than 45 years. Ahmed Kissebah, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, was an internationally recognized obesity researcher and father of the field of study on metabolic syndrome. Among his pioneering work, Dr. Kissebah made a landmark discovery that an area on chromosome 3 is associated with all fundamental features of obesity.
He was the long-time medical advisor for TOPS Club and worked closely with a nationwide network of TOPS member families who participated in generational research to explore the genetic causes of obesity. Dr. Kissebah died May 17, 2012, at age 74.
Dr. Silverstein has identified key areas of growth that will continue and expand upon the research legacy of the TOPS Research Center. Faculty investigators, for example, are developing projects in the area of epigenetics, the study of how the environment modifies the genome and how that relates to obesity.
Others are investigating how genetic association leads to biological causation. These efforts will build upon results from genome-wide studies and examine how that information relates to obesity and metabolic syndrome.
“An important new direction is our interest in the consequences of obesity as well as its causes,” Dr. Silverstein said. “We are beginning to appreciate the biology behind the complications of obesity. It’s not just carrying extra weight. The presence of obesity changes the body’s physiology and causes chronic inflammation.”
Researching how obesity affects overall health will have implications for bone density, reproductive health, depression and even cancer. Barbara Cady, President of TOPS, said the organization is optimistic about these avenues for research. TOPS members have reported anecdotally a high incidence of cancer, for instance, and they hope new discoveries will provide answers that help those who are trying to reverse the negative health impact of overweight and obesity.
“We are encouraged by the recent findings at the Medical College and are interested in new treatments that benefit people and do no harm,” Cady said. “Many treatments out there now are potentially damaging and compromise health. Our hope is that we find a way so people can lose weight but not lose their health in the process. The Medical College has always been a strong supporter of our mission to reach out to people who deal with obesity every day and to inform about the consequences of the condition.”
Founded more than 64 years ago, TOPS is the only non-profit, non-commercial weight loss support and wellness education organization of its kind. TOPS promotes successful weight management through weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise and wellness information. TOPS comprises approximately 170,000 members throughout the United States and Canada.
“The Medical College’s relationship with TOPS is special,” said John R. Raymond, Sr., MD, College President and CEO. “Not only have TOPS members across the country helped make possible the organization’s philanthropic support of our research, they have participated directly in these research efforts, providing population data from which new discoveries and interventions may arise. Ours is a model partnership that has borne plentiful fruit.”