Campus News

Obesity Initiative conference highlights latest in imaging, musculoskeletal health

Researchers from academia and industry gathered in Athens June 12 for a conference hosted by the UGA Obesity Initiative to discuss medical imaging technologies and how they might be used in the ongoing battle against obesity.

“The goal of the conference was to increase knowledge among scientists from multiple disciplines using imaging to assess fat, bone and muscle in clinical and basic research,” said Richard Lewis, a UGA Foundation Professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ department of foods and nutrition.

The meeting drew attendees from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Regents University, the Morehouse School of Medicine, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Delaware and UGA.

“This conference presented an excellent opportunity for imaging experts working at UGA’s Bioimaging Research Center to meet and discuss techniques with other research experts contending with an ever growing obesity problem,” said Stephen Miller, director of BIRC and a professor of psychology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

“BIRC is a strong supporter of the development and use of noninvasive imaging techniques of multiple types of body tissues including bone, muscle and fat,” said Miller, who took guests on a tour of the BIRC laboratory to showcase the technologies available at UGA.

Panel discussions included presentations by UGA graduate students Joseph Kindler from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, Qingying Meng from Franklin College and Hui-ju Young from the College of Education. They discussed their research projects involving imaging of visceral adipose tissue, bone architecture, brain development and intramuscular fat.

Attendees also heard from three speakers who detailed how they are using imaging techniques in a variety of obesity-related projects.

Mark Punyanitya, president and CEO of the Image Reading Center in New York City, began the afternoon session by discussing the technical aspects of imaging for body composition assessments, including the use of different imaging techniques to determine levels of visceral, muscle and bone marrow fat.

Christopher Modlesky, an associate professor of kinesiology and physiology in the University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences, described how he uses MRI to study the skeletal structures and fat deposits in children with cerebral palsy. They often have weakened bones due to a lack of physical activity, which can lead to painful breaks.

Modlesky’s team is investigating the use of botulinum toxin and vibration therapy as a way to boost bone and muscle development in children with spastic cerebral palsy.

Timothy Nagy, a professor of nutrition sciences and director of the Animal Physiology Core at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discussed how animal models help scientists understand the various mechanisms regulating energy expenditure and body weight. He showed a number of unique imaging devices designed specifically for small laboratory animals like mice and rats, which his laboratory uses to examine the health effects of excess body fat. Nagy emphasized the use of advanced imaging techniques to understand the roles of different fat types and how they affect health.

“These new imaging technologies will help pave the way as we continue to explore the role of obesity on disease progression and prevention,” Lewis said.

In addition to the Obesity Initiative, the conference was sponsored by BIRC; UGA’s Office of the President, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research; and Georgia Regents University’s Institute for Regenerative and Reparative Medicine.