Metabolism, Diabetes & Obesity

Our researchers are committed to understanding the causes of metabolic disease and obesity, and the links between obesity and other health issues

Metabolic diseases and obesity are emerging as the epidemic of the 21st century, driven by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary habits. The global prevalence of obesity almost doubled between 1980 and 2014 so that now approximately 40% of adults are overweight worldwide and 11-15% are clinically obese. Obesity directly increases "all cause" mortality being a risk factor for a myriad of diseases including stroke, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes (T2D), liver diseases and several cancers. Excess body weight is a major and leading factor in overall disease burden worldwide and increasingly, obesity is now being recognised and treated as a chronic disease.

A key challenge in obesity management is that losing weight and sustaining weight loss is profoundly difficult. Pharmacotherapy as an adjunct to lifestyle intervention (and in some cases, surgical approaches) works better than either alone. Research leading to an improved understanding of the physiology of obesity is crucial for the development of improved treatments that work as well, if not better, than surgery.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, the worldwide prevalence of T2D is 371 million, estimated to rise to 552 million by 2030, closely paralleling the rise in obesity. New treatments based on novel drug classes are also required for better managing metabolic diseases such as T2D and its associated co-morbidities including diabetic neuropathy and cardiovascular-renal diseases.

Academic institutions play an increasingly important role in the development of innovative products for these metabolic diseases and obesity, by providing a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms and pathways underlying their causes, through to discovering new targeted treatment options.

Who we are

Professor Tony Tiganis leads the Metabolism, Diabetes and Obesity program, comprising 11 primary group leaders and their research teams, and 16 affiliated groups from other BDI Discovery Programs. To achieve our goals, we adopt a multidisciplinary approach, working with clinicians, international and national research partners, and industry to ask and address clinically-relevant questions. We use cutting edge biochemical, cell biological, physiological and imaging approaches, and a suite of animal models to support our research.

Our goals

The goals of the Metabolism, Diabetes and Obesity Discovery Program are to:

  • Gain a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying metabolic dysfunction and energy homeostasis, the development of obesity and T2D and the factors influencing disease progression
  • Understand the molecular drivers of secondary complications of obesity and T2D, such as cancer and liver diseases
  • Identify and validate new targets based on clinically-relevant models of disease for drug discovery and development
  • Develop improved pharmacological approaches to combine with other interventions for maintaining weight loss

Research themes

We strive to unravel the complexities of what causes metabolic diseases and obesity, the overlap with their co-morbidities and other diseases and how this knowledge can be used for better treatments. Our major research themes include:

Obesity and the Central Nervous System (CNS)

We explore the neural, endocrine and molecular mechanisms that contribute to obesity. These include investigating:

  • How the CNS senses the metabolic state and integrates multiple peripheral factors to coordinate energy expenditure and appetite
  • The neural processes underpinning this including the tissue crosstalk between the periphery/gut and the CNS
  • The impact of metabolic dysfunction in obesity and T2D on higher cortical function and behaviour
  • The role of adipose tissue including brown/beige adipose tissue in lipid metabolism and energy balance
  • New treatments, such as human monoclonal antibody therapeutics
  • The mechanism of weight loss through bariatric procedures
  • Exogenous risk factors such as diet and stress

Glucose homeostasis and Type 2 Diabetes (T2D)

We are interested in deciphering the mechanisms contributing to T2D, including:

  • Signalling mechanisms involved in glucose homeostasis
  • The role of lipids
  • The molecular processes driving insulin resistance
  • How insulin secretion is attenuated in T2D
  • The roles of the CNS, myokines, adipokines and hepatokines
  • The nature and impact of tissue crosstalk in glucose metabolism
  • The effects of diet, the microbiota and inflammation

Complications of obesity and T2D

There are numerous co-morbidities of obesity and T2D. Our work focuses on understanding:

  • The molecular mechanisms of how obesity promotes cancer (prostate, hepatic cellular, colon, breast cancers and cachexia)
  • How obesity promotes hepatic steatosis and the progression to liver diseases such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and liver cancer
  • The processes driving atherosclerosis, cardiovascular and renal diseases
  • How T2D/obesity targets are linked to those of comorbidities such as diabetic neuropathy and polycystic ovarian syndrome