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Department of Animal Science
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NIH (R01) Proposal: Cortisol Regulation of Perinatal Adipose tissue and Sheep Neonatal Leptin Peak (Stephen P. Ford, PI)

Ford Grant

In July 2013, Dr. Stephen Ford, Professor and Rochelle Chair in the Department of Animal Science, and Director of the Center for the Study of Fetal Programming at the University of Wyoming received $1,507,099 in funding from the National Institutes of Health for an R01 submission entitled: “Cortisol Regulation of Perinatal Adipose Tissue and Sheep Neonatal Leptin”.  This grant was funded through the “Dual purpose with dual benefit: Research in biomedicine and agriculturally important domestic species” program.  The goal of this project is to investigate the role of elevated maternal and fetal cortisol during maternal overnutrition/obesity in ovine pregnancy in altering fetal tissue maturation and resulting in the elimination of the neonatal leptin peak in offspring. This neonatal leptin spike is important in programming the correct balance of orexigenic (appetite stimulating) and anorexigenic (appetite suppressing) brain centers in offspring, which dictate appetite in postnatal life. The sheep is a large precocial (mature newborns) specie used routinely for biomedical studies throughout the world. Maternal obesity in humans has increased dramatically worldwide and is a significant public health concern with many complications, among them being an increased incidence of offspring obesity, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes.  Dr. Ford’s research group has developed and characterized a model of maternal obesity in the pregnant ewe that results in increased adiposity of offspring at birth, who go on to develop an increased appetite, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and obesity as adults. The goal of this project is to investigate the mechanisms whereby obesity induced alterations in maternal/fetal cortisol impact fetal organ and tissue development, leading to the observed impacts on offspring health, with the goal of developing diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic strategies. Implications for this research are not only important for the birth of healthy human infants, but also for the birth of health growth efficient livestock offspring.

Since its establishment, research conducted at the Center has attracting a lot of attention both nationally and internationally, and resulted in the establishment of collaborations with faculty at UW and other academic institutions both within and outside of the US.  Studies conducted at the Center have resulted in the presentation of several hundred abstracts and over 80 publications in high quality refereed scientific journals over this period.  Further, significant numbers of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and visiting scientists have and continue to receive training in association with ongoing projects at the Center. Additionally, in my capacity as Center Director, I have been invited to present our finding at numerous medical and agricultural scientific forums worldwide, which has been great publicity for the Center and the University of Wyoming.

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