Skip to main content
obesity diabetes research article.jpg

Strengthening VCOM’s Partnership with Auburn University through Obesity and Diabetes Research

Joseph W. Brewer, PhD standing with Robert L. Judd, PhD
By Brittany Lilla -

Obesity is a growing health crisis affecting nearly 20% of the global adult population. It is associated with increased severity of infections, reduced responses to vaccines and increased risk for autoimmune disease. Further, it is a factor in major metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease. Despite the widespread nature of obesity, however, the mechanisms underlying obesity-associated immune system dysfunction are poorly understood.

To address this problem, Joseph W. Brewer, PhD, a professor of immunology at VCOM-Auburn, is collaborating with Robert L. Judd, PhD, a professor at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine and an expert in adipocytes (fat cells). Adipocytes store fat as an energy source for the body and help regulate metabolic processes. They also affect cell types in other tissues, so Brewer and Judd reasoned that adipocytes are well-equipped to communicate with the immune system.

With intramural funding from the VCOM Center for One Health Research, the team developed a system to investigate the hypothesis that adipocytes influence the behavior of B lymphocytes, a key cell type in the immune system that produces antibodies that fight infection but can also cause disease. VCOM-Auburn students participate in the work, helping generate critical knowledge about adipocyte-B lymphocyte interactions.

In their initial studies, the researchers investigated interactions between adipocytes and B lymphocytes. Preliminary findings suggest that adipocytes can indeed modulate B lymphocyte function, potentially leading to altered immune responses in obese individuals.

In the long term, Brewer and Judd plan to extend their work into studies of adipocytes and B lymphocytes from mouse models of diet-induced obesity and aging, as well as from healthy and obese human subjects. This comprehensive approach will make it possible to understand more fully the relationships between obesity and immune system functions. The goal is to identify novel therapeutic targets to mitigate the adverse effects of obesity on immune health.

Brewer, Judd and many other VCOM-Auburn faculty members participate in the Boshell Research Program, which aims to enhance opportunities for diabetes research at Auburn University by facilitating cross-disciplinary scientific discussion, supporting the study of new ideas, fostering the development of investigators new to the field of diabetes and expanding the overall base of diabetes investigation at the university. The vision of the Boshell Research Program is to improve the lives of people with diabetes through the world-class investigation into the prevention, cure and management of the disease and its complications.

That vision nicely complements VCOM-Auburn’s mission to cultivate community-focused physicians who will improve the lives of rural and medically underserved populations and advance research to enhance human health. The collaborative efforts of Brewer and Judd are a key part of the meaningful relationship between VCOM and Auburn University.

Share This Story: