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Big Thinkers- Abraham Kovoor

Title: Assistant Professor, Biomedical & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Expertise: Biochemistry of Brain Molecules; Improved Drug Therapies

We’re just too fat. Obesity in the United States is common and the health problems it causes are enormous. It’s something that doctors, psychologists, teachers, parents, scientists, and so many others have long struggled to understand: What regulates our body weight?

Professor Abraham Kovoor, a molecular biologist at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy, didn’t set out to answer this question. Not until he stumbled upon the link between body weight and the brain protein RGS9–2. He had been studying this protein to understand its role in the movement side effects of drugs used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.

“Essentially, we believe we’ve identified a new gene that likely controls weight gain through actions in the brain that regulate metabolism,” said the scientist who’s studied the protein with colleagues for almost a decade. “When we examined individuals with a certain variation in the RGS9 gene, we found they had an increased body mass index. Our further studies indicate that altered functioning of the protein may increase fat and lead to obesity,” Professor Kovoor explained.

Since the protein is expressed largely in the brain and hasn’t been detected in fat tissue, Professor Kovoor and his colleagues are studying RGS9 at the cellular level to better understand the brain mechanisms underlying the control of body weight.

At the same time, Professor Kovoor continues to study variations in the RGS9 gene with the hope of developing a simple blood test to help doctors optimize the most effective, least harmful drug therapy for individuals with Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. He says part of the reason he joined URI in 2007 was because it’s a research university that is supportive of his work with biotech companies for such developments.

Professor Kovoor also says he’s been fortunate to participate with such programs as the Rhode Island IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (RI INBRE) Undergraduate Research Fellowships that have allowed him to work with and help to promote the growth of a new generation of scientists.

Copyright © 2017 University of Rhode Island.

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