Two CIHR grants target obesity, diabetes and Aboriginal Peoples’ health

Michael Rotondi and Gary Sweeney

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grants were recently awarded to two York researchers – Professors Michael Rotondi and Gary Sweeney – to look at developing new statistical methods to analyze the health of Aboriginal Peoples and to understand the role fat cells play in diabetes.

It is well established that obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, says Sweeney. The precise mechanisms responsible for regulating changes in insulin sensitivity and energy metabolism, however, have not been fully determined.

Gary Sweeney
Gary Sweeney

Sweeney of the Faculty of Science received more than $500,000 over five years to focus on the role played by adiponectin, a substance that is released from fat cells. After it is released, adiponectin can travel in the bloodstream to effect peripheral metabolic tissues such as skeletal muscle and liver.

“Interestingly, the amount of adiponectin circulating in the blood decreases in obese and diabetic individuals,” says Sweeney. “We intend to determine how too little adiponectin alters insulin sensitivity and energy metabolism. Understanding this may facilitate development of new treatments to reduce morbidity and mortality in individuals with obesity and diabetes.”

Rotondi, of the Faculty of Health’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, received a CIHR operating grant of $136,681 over 30 months in partnership with Janet Smylie, an aboriginal health researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Michael Rotondi
Michael Rotondi

The pair used a new and highly advanced method – respondent-driven sampling (RDS) – to recruit First Nations participants for their Our Health Counts project. Although the data has been collected, advanced analyses beyond basic statistics are not currently possible.

“This study provided important health disparity information, including findings such as the proportion of First Nations people who are diabetic (16 per cent versus five per cent in the general population), have high blood pressure (26 per cent versus 20 per cent) and have been diagnosed with heart disease (eight per cent versus three per cent),” says Rotondi.

“Typically, these analyses would represent the starting point for more research to explore potential causes that might be related to these diseases. However, in the context of RDS studies, appropriate statistical methods to do this have not yet been developed.”

Rotondi plans to rectify this by developing advanced statistical methods to analyze the data – specifically, to examine factors that are related to diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in the First Nations population.

“We want to learn which physical, social and environmental factors may be linked to being diagnosed with these chronic conditions,” says Rotondi. “While we have shown large disparities between the health of urban Aboriginal people and the general population, the development and application of these new statistical methods will paint a more complete picture of which factors affect Aboriginal health.”