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May 8, 2006

University of Michigan Medical School obesity researcher named as U-M’s first Atkins Professor

$2 million gift from Atkins Foundation will fund metabolism research
U-M one of only seven universities receiving Atkins chairs

BurantANN ARBOR, Mich. — Today, a University of Michigan Medical School researcher who studies the science of obesity and metabolism will receive an honor named for another physician who achieved international prominence in that same field.

In a ceremony this evening, Charles Burant, M.D., Ph.D., will officially be made the U-M’s first Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Professor of Metabolism. The professorship is named for the doctor whose theories promoted disease prevention and health management through a low-carbohydrate lifestyle that became synonymous with his name.

Mrs. AtkinsThe honor is made possible by a $2 million pledged grant from the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation, which was established in 2003 following Dr. Atkins’ untimely death. Lead by Mrs. Atkins, the Foundation is dedicated to funding independent scientific research examining the role of metabolism and nutrition in obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious health concerns. It is one of the few grant-making organizations dedicated to research in this arena, and supports educational programs and endowed professorships at major universities.

The Atkins Foundation’s gift will support the independent studies of Burant, an outstanding researcher who seeks to understand the complex biology of metabolism, especially as it relates to diabetes, nutrition, and obesity. It will also support his research aimed at the development of new treatments for diabetes and obesity.

“The support of the Atkins Foundation will give me the freedom to do higher-risk research that could yield unexpected results, without having to spend funds that are specifically assigned to certain projects and topics,” says Burant. “The financial support that the Atkins Professorship brings will foster scientific inquiry into the biological basis of obesity and related conditions, which are a crisis confronting our society like never before.”

Burant directs the Michigan Metabolomics & Obesity Center (MMOC), and is an associate professor in the Metabolism, Endocrinology and Diabetes division of the Department of Internal Medicine, and in the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology. He also has an appointment in the U-M Division of Kinesiology.

The Atkins professorship joins more than 100 other named professorships at the    U-M Medical School, each of them endowed by an individual, couple or group to support the research and scholarship of a faculty member who has reached the highest levels of achievement in his or her field.

Named professorships bring both honor and funding that can be used by the chair’s occupant to pursue scientific research.

Burant says that the Atkins Foundation’s support will complement his research grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders, as well as from the American Diabetes Association. He also says that the gift will help the MMOC reach its potential to advance metabolic research at the U-M and bring together researchers from throughout the University who are working on topic related to metabolism, obesity and nutrition.

The MMOC is part of the Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center, which was founded in 2005 as an umbrella for diabetes research, education, care and community outreach at the University.

“We are deeply grateful to Mrs. Atkins for her vision in establishing this chair, and others around the nation, to give leading researchers the support they need to pursue research that is so deeply needed by our nation and our world,” says Robert Kelch, M.D., Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and CEO of the U-M Health System. “We believe that Dr. Atkins, were he here to share this occasion, would be proud to see his name live on in this way.”

Mrs. Atkins concurs. “I am especially excited to be able to endow this chair at the University of Michigan. Not only is it my husband’s alma mater, but, as one of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions, it also is a fitting place to help fulfill his dream -- for the research community to bear out complementary medicine as a valid and effective medical approach to treating the myriad of metabolic disorders that plague our society today. I am confidant that such an esteemed investigator as Dr. Burant will further this goal to which my husband devoted his life,” she says.

Only six other American universities have been selected to receive gifts to establish professorships: Columbia, Cornell and Duke Universities, the University of Southern California, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

In all, the Atkins Foundation has pledged $13.5 million for the professorships, in addition to millions in research grant funding for independent nutrition studies. The foundation has committed to funding additional applications for research funding from scientists at each of the universities where an Atkins Professorship has been established.

Obesity is one of the top health issues facing the United States, and the state of Michigan, because of its long-term health implications. More than 60 percent of Michigan residents are overweight or obese, and the state’s obesity-related medical expenses are estimated at $2.9 billion (in 2003 dollars), according to the 2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that health care related to overweight and obesity cost the United States $92.6 billion (in 2002) dollars, about half of which was paid by Medicaid and Medicare.

The Atkins professorship advances The Michigan Difference, a $2.5 billion fund-raising campaign encompassing three U-M campuses, dozens of schools and colleges, and numerous units and centers. To learn more about named professorships and other ways of giving that can support the U-M Medical School and other parts of the U-M Health System, visit www.medicineatmichigan.org.

The Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation seeks to positively impact disease prevention and health management worldwide by supporting nutritional research and educational programs. Established with a $40 million gift in August 2003, the Foundation provides grants to support scientific, evidence-based and clinical research that examines the role of metabolism and nutrition in obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious health conditions. Governed by a board of directors under the stewardship of National Philanthropic Trust, an independent public charity that manages more than $500 million in charitable assets and has disbursed more than $365 million in grants to charities around the globe, the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation is unaffiliated with and operates independently of Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.  

Written by Kara Gavin

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