Connecting Spinal Cord Injury and Obesity

By Jessica Alvarez

Connecting Spinal Cord Injury and Obesity

By Jessica Alvarez
Postdoctoral associate David McMillan has been researching the connection between spinal cord injury patients and the weight gain that all too often accompanies it.

Postdoctoral associate David McMillan has spent most of his time with the Miller School of Medicine researching obesity, or the unfavorable accumulation of fat that is common after spinal cord injury (SCI). “Due the ‘neurogenic’ origins of obesity in SCI, fat accumulates in a manner quite different than in people without paralysis, and fat in certain areas can lead to cardiovascular disease,” David explains. Persons with SCI have been shown to have an exaggerated rise and delayed fall of postprandial TGs or triglycerides, which are fats in the blood. This predisposes such individuals to weight gain and higher risks of cardiovascular diseases.

David’s current project is a translational research study that included providing a liquid meal to individuals with and without SCIs. From there he monitored the rise and fall of TGs in their blood for about six and a half hours after the meal. The meal contained a “lipid tracer” chemical that allowed for a detailed understanding of fat metabolism. Results so far have shown that when a meal is normalized to lean body mass, persons with SCI have a similar rise in postprandial TGs as persons without an injury. These findings will provide practitioners with a better understanding of how the nervous system coordinates complex TG metabolisms, which is very difficult to track.

“One of my favorite things about conducting translational research is the diversity of impact and implementation that results from the research,” David goes on to say. He has shared results from his work at local spinal cord injury support groups, and this engagement with the patient community has resulted in people with SCI asking endless questions about their diets and nutrition. He feels his work is imperative, as some individuals with SCI are given limited nutritional information and they exhaust themselves trying to reverse or stop the unwanted weight gain. He hopes that his passion with translation research will contribute long awaited answers to those with SCI and expand scientific knowledge.