Research Examines Link Between Weight and Genetics

Research Examines Link Between Weight and Genetics

Kimberly Rieger-Christ, PhD, Director, Cancer Research, and Director, Translational Research, works in a lab at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. Rieger-Christ works with Dmitry Nepomnayshy, MD, on weight loss research.

By the time patients reach Dmitry Nepomnayshy, MD, many of them have tried numerous weight loss diets, pills and sometimes weight-loss surgery. They’re desperate to lose weight. Many of his patients are frustrated as they see friends, relatives and spouses have success with different weight-loss plans, but not them.

You can include Jean Fortier in that group. The Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native has tried multiple diet programs with varied success.

“I’ve done it all,” Fortier said. “Some of the programs, I’d lose a decent amount of weight, but I’d always end up putting it back on. It gets very frustrating.”

Nepomnayshy, a bariatric surgeon at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, has begun researching why specific weight-loss methods work for some people and not others. LHMC is one of the first places in the country to study the impact a person’s genetics may have when treating obesity.

“We don’t know why surgery isn’t effective for everybody,” he said. “We believe that a person’s genetics can lead to the degree of their obesity, as well as help determine the best obesity treatment for a patient.”

This two-year project could have a wide range of ramifications for obesity, he said.

“The hope is that we would be able to get to a point where a blood test can tell you what, genetically, is causing your obesity and what would be the best course of treatment — whether that’s through medication, surgery or something else,” Nepomnayshy said. “There’s a stigma that goes along with obesity. This could go a long way in reducing that stigma.”

Four years ago, Fortier found her weight-loss solution: gastric bypass surgery. Almost 150 pounds lighter and off all her diabetes medications, Fortier thinks a genetic test is a good idea.

“It would help people understand that it’s not always your fault,” says Fortier. “There is something going on in your body that is causing it to be difficult to lose weight.”