MD/PhD - Division of Nutritional Sciences
U.S. Dept of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grant 2013-15
In 2013, the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease, based on the condition’s contributing to other illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. By that time childhood obesity in particular had reached epidemic proportions in the US, with almost one-third of children considered either overweight or obese. This growing concern led the USDA’s research office, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), to identify obesity as a public health challenge needing immediate attention, and this prompted Anthony Wang, a student in the Medical Scholars (MD/PhD) Program, to apply for the prestigious NIFA grant.
As part of his research in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, Anthony wants to determine the key factors that predispose children to obesity. Specifically, he is conducting research on the relationship between genetic factors, intestinal bacteria, and childhood obesity. Working under the guidance of Professor Margarita Teran-Garcia, Anthony and his colleagues are investigating whether the presence of specific intestinal bacteria, when combined with the presence of certain genetic markers in the host, can either protect or predispose a child to early weight gain. The group is investigating 48 genetic markers and the abundance of common intestinal bacteria that may be able to predict risk of obesity in preschool age children.
The group’s preliminary results suggest that there are differences in the quantity of certain gut bacteria between normal and overweight children. For example, they found that the amount of Clostridium cluster IV bacteria in the children they studied is inversely correlated to the amount of body fat. In other words: the less bacteria, the more fat.
As Anthony explains, “Ultimately, we hope to construct a genetic risk score that will allow us to predict the risk for a child becoming obese. One of the benefits of understanding genetic predisposition is the ability to devise personalized intervention strategies, which could include education, diet, exercise, medicine, and even behavioral counseling.”
Making a positive impact on future generations is important to Anthony, who plans to become a pediatrician with strong ties to an academic community where he can also teach and continue his research. “Seeing change in people is really what drives me as a person – it’s probably the single motivating force in anything I do. Sometimes when you see other people achieve it’s even better than when you achieve for yourself. It’s not about me, it’s about we being part of the collective solution,” he says.
Medicine and nutrition-related research is not Anthony’s only passion, however. He began taking taekwondo lessons at age 11 and became a certified instructor by the time he was 17. He currently holds a third degree black belt and competes internationally. He credits his long-time practice with developing character, maturity, confidence, and leadership skills. “Martial arts transformed my life and allowed me to be who I am today,” he says.