Obesity Research and Educational Initiative

Qi Wu named prestigious 2013 Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences

Qi Wu, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, has been selected as a 2013 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences.

Wu is one of just 22 scientists nationwide to receive the prestigious four-year, $240,000 award from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Pew's scholars program, launched in 1985, has granted more than $120 million in funding to more than 500 scientists at the beginning of their independent careers. The program is rigorously competitive and supports outstanding early-career scientists researching the basis of perplexing health problems—including diabetes, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. The awards are specifically designed to be flexible in terms of how the money is used, allowing the recipients to take calculated risks, expand their research, and follow unanticipated leads.

"I am extremely honored to receive this award from the Pew Charitable Trusts," Wu says. "This award will provide our laboratory the resources to pursue exciting new scientific directions."

Wu's lab investigates the regulation of appetite and energy metabolism by the central nervous system (CNS). Uncontrolled intake of calorie-dense foods and lack of physical exercise has contributed to the epidemic of obesity in the United States. Appetite is known to be controlled at several levels in the CNS; however, little is known as to how feeding is processed in the brain to cause changes in behavior. In previous research, Wu demonstrated that over-activation of a brain center called the parabrachial nucleus (PBN) disrupts feeding and leads to starvation. Improving receptor signaling for the neurotransmitter GABA calms the excited PBN cells and reverses the anorexia in mice.

Using viral-based genetic approaches, Wu and colleagues aim to identify the neurons releasing GABA -- thus mediating appetite in variable energy states -- as well as their role in control of food intake and energy balance. This work could point the way to possible treatments for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and food addiction, as well as metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes.

“Dr. Wu is an exceptionally gifted and creative scientist who uses the most advanced approaches to understand fundamental neural mechanisms controlling appetite and food intake. His research has clear implications for understanding the mechanisms controlling obesity,” says Curt Sigmund, Ph.D., chair and department executive officer of pharmacology.

Wu earned a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology in 2005 from the University of Georgia, where he worked with Dr. Ping Shen. He trained as a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry and neuroscience from 2006 to 2011 in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Palmiter at the University of Washington. He joined the faculty of the University of Iowa in 2012.

Story Source: UI Health Care Marketing and Communications, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room W319 GH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009 (http://www.medicine.uiowa.edu/Newsarticle.aspx?id=18963)