NIH to extend funding for nutrition and obesity research at UNC through 2026

May 10, 2021

The UNC Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) has received a $5.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund another five years of support. This award is the fifth time the NIH has provided five-year funding for the center, allowing for continuous work in the field of nutritional sciences and obesity since the center’s establishment in 1999.

Dr. Elizabeth Mayer Davis

Dr. Beth Mayer-Davis

“Nutrition and obesity are important drivers of many chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said NORC Director Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, PhD, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “The UNC NORC provides the framework, tools and expertise researchers need to engage in the interdisciplinary research that is required to evaluate health risks for populations and to develop strategies to reduce these risks.”

The NORC is one of 11 centers in the country funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) that is specifically designed to enhance the efficiency, productivity, effectiveness and multidisciplinary nature of nutrition and obesity-related research. It maintains facilities at both UNC-Chapel Hill and at the Nutrition Research Institute on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

The center’s Pilot & Feasibility (P&F) Program, which helps investigators collect data to support grant applications for independent research support and published work, has funded more than 60 innovative research projects in the field of nutrition and obesity, 10 of which were granted in the last five years. Of the awardees funded, 56 are still conducting nutrition and obesity research, either at UNC or at other universities or in industry.

Dr. S. Raza Shaikh

Dr. S. Raza Shaikh

“Based on their awards, P&F awardees have been granted NIH and other major funding to further their work, have risen to leadership positions in their fields and have published highly influential papers,” said P&F Program Co-Director Raza Shaikh, PhD, an associate professor of nutrition and associate chair for research in the Department of Nutrition.

“The P&F Program is committed to promoting diversity among researchers in the field of nutrition and obesity,” said Shaikh. Most recently, the P&F program received funding from the NIDDK to collaborate with North Carolina Central University on mentoring and research to promote career development for future researchers in nutrition and obesity from underrepresented backgrounds. Mayer-Davis was also a member of the Planning Committee for the NORC workshop on Advancing the Careers of Scientists from Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups Conducting Nutrition and Obesity Research, and she is on the executive committee to advance diversity and equity work for NORCs across the country.

As part of its mission, the NORC at UNC provides support and expertise to scientists studying the role of nutrition and obesity in public health. Its members enhance nutrition education for health professionals and nutrition scientists, as well as help communicate research findings to the public.

In 2019, the NORC’s Enrichment Program co-sponsored the first annual Interdisciplinary Nutrition Sciences Symposium (INSS) in Chapel Hill, N.C., with the theme of “Synergizing Animal and Human Obesity Research.” The second annual INSS, titled “Heterogeneity in Obesity: Implications for Cancer and Related Obesity-Associated Outcomes,” will be held virtually on June 21-22. Registration is open now.

The NIH renewed funding to the center thanks to the substantial impact made by their members, researchers and programs over the previous five years. Since 2016, the center has grown to include 135 members from 39 UNC departments – including nutrition, epidemiology and health behavior – and have supported 286 investigators. Members have received a total of $144.7 million in funding for more than 600 projects, and the center’s work has produced more than 900 supported publications.

“We are very excited that the NIH has recognized the important work of NORC members,” said Mayer-Davis. “Over the next five years, we will continue our efforts to provide nutrition and obesity researchers at all stages of their careers with the expertise and infrastructure that will enable them to make high-impact scientific contributions.”


Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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