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Vol. LIX, No. 5
March 9, 2007
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Metabolic Clinical Research Unit Opens With Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

On the front page...

On Jan. 25, the Clinical Center and NIDDK introduced the new NIH metabolic clinical research unit with a ribbon-cutting and open house. Located on the fifth and seventh floors of the CRC, the unit houses facilities that will allow researchers to conduct cutting-edge research on the physiology, prevention and treatment of obesity.

Obesity's "connection to co-morbid conditions like diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer will drive public health in the future," said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni at the event, adding that the CC is the ideal facility for multi-disciplinary research required to address the obesity epidemic.

Continued...

Present at the ribbon-cutting for the metabolic unit are (from l) acting NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers; CC director Dr. John Gallin; NIDDK scientific director Dr. Marvin Gershengorn; Dr. Monica Skarulis, director of NIDDK's metabolic research core; NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman; and NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni.
Present at the ribbon-cutting for the metabolic unit are (from l) acting NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers; CC director Dr. John Gallin; NIDDK scientific director Dr. Marvin Gershengorn; Dr. Monica Skarulis, director of NIDDK's metabolic research core; NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman; and NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni.
A component of the strategic plan for NIH obesity research, the unit is designed to foster a collaborative research approach, bringing together experts from the fields of metabolism, endocrinology, nutrition, cardiovascular biology, gastroenterology, hepatology, genetics and the behavioral sciences.

"This is a unique facility that will house research protocols from several of the institutes, making it the home of trans-NIH research at the Clinical Center," said Dr. Griffin Rodgers, acting NIDDK director and co-chair of the NIH obesity research task force.

The metabolic unit's fifth floor facility includes 10 private inpatient rooms, a metabolic kitchen, an exercise room, special vending machines and a communal dining area. The design of each room took into account the needs of the patient volunteers, with specially reinforced construction, amenities and equipment. The metabolic kitchen allows dietitians to control and analyze the composition of patient meals to calculate the exact nutrients consumed.

The unit's exercise equipment, physical activity monitors and body composition measurement tools are key resources for research protocols. The fitness equipment, including a treadmill and stationary upright and recumbent bikes, allows researchers to conduct stress and pulmonary function tests to observe the effects of exercise on weight loss.

To measure body composition, the unit provides access to a Bod Pod and DXA scanner. The pod measures total body density and lean and fat body mass using air displacement. The scanner sweeps the entire body with a small-dose X-ray to calculate how much of the body is made up of fat, muscle and bone.

Zerhouni tries out the vacuum-sealed porthole.
Zerhouni tries out the vacuum-sealed porthole, or “isolette system,” through which blood samples can be collected and measured food will be passed so that the chamber measurements are not disrupted. Looking on are Gershengorn (l) and Gottesman (c).

The signature feature of the metabolic unit is three “rapid response respiratory suites.” Located on the seventh floor, these rooms allow researchers to measure volunteers’ energy metabolism over 24 hours using non-invasive means. By analyzing air composition in the suite, researchers will be able to determine how much energy on a minute-to-minute basis a volunteer burns while sleeping, eating or exercising and whether the energy comes from carbohydrate, protein or fat. The metabolic suites also feature custom-designed vacuum-sealed portholes, or “isolette systems,” through which measured food and other items can be passed, blood samples can be taken and so that physiological measurements are not disrupted.

“People become obese or overweight because of small differences between calories taken in and calories expended over the long term,” said Dr. Monica Skarulis, a senior clinical investigator with NIDDK’s Clinical Endocrine Branch who was integral in planning the metabolic suites. “These suites will allow clinical researchers to collect precise and accurate measurements necessary to test new and innovative hypotheses about energy metabolism.”

The unit, which is available to all institutes for obesity research, will open with protocols sponsored
by several institutes including NIDDK and NICHD. The protocols will address how factors such as a person’s diet, exercise or the amount of sleep he or she gets, combine with genetics to determine body weight. Skarulis said the unit seeks both obese and non-obese volunteers, “so everyone is welcome to consider enrolling."

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