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Canada Excellence Research Chair in the Microbiome-Endocannabinoidome Axis in Metabolic Health

Vincenzo Di Marzo is developing new therapeutic, nutritional, and medical strategies to maintain health and prevent diseases like obesity.

Background

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight in 2014, including 600 million who were obese.

This pandemic, which also affects children and adolescents, is one of the century's leading worldwide health challenges. Obesity increases the prevalence of many diseases, including diabetes, cardiometabolic disease, certain cancers, and inflammatory diseases, placing a major financial burden on society.

In 2015 Statistics Canada estimated that 3.5 million Canadians suffered from Type 2 diabetes and that this metabolic disease, which is directly linked to obesity, had cost the country more than $14 billion. The latest discoveries in human health increasingly reveal the urgency of understanding the composition and function of the human intestinal microbiome in order to promote health and stop the spread of metabolic diseases.

Press release (French only)

Mission

The Canada Excellence Research Chair in the Microbiome-Endocannabinoidome Axis in Metabolic Health is the first chair in the world dedicated to the integrated study of the intestinal microbiome and its impairments with a view to understanding its influence on the molecular mechanisms underlying obesity, as well as the development of Type 2 diabetes, cardiometabolic disease, and other associated disorders.

The chair's mission is to identify new therapeutic targets and design innovative medical and nutritional strategies to maintain health and prevent certain illnesses.

Vincenzo Di Marzo, Full professor at Faculty of Medicine

Vincenzo Di Marzo

Chairholder

A world-renowned authority in the field of the biochemistry and pharmacology of endocannabinoids, Vincenzo Di Marzo, Ph. D., is a research director at the National Research Council’s Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry (ICB-CNR) in Pozzuoli, Italy, and coordinator of the Endocannabinoid Research Group in the Naples region. He earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at Imperial College in London in 1988 and completed postdoctoral studies in lipid biochemistry and natural product chemistry at ICB-CNR.

Pr. Di Marzo has received numerous research grants, including a Human Frontier Science Program grant to study the biosynthesis, metabolism, and structure-activity relationships of anadamide. He was awarded the International Cannabinoid Research Society's Mechoulam Award for his outstanding contributions to the field, and Thomson Reuters named him one of the most cited authors in the field of pharmacology and toxicology. He has sat and is sitting on editorial boards of a number of peer-reviewed journals on the pharmacology of lipid mediators, including Cannabis and Cannabinoid ResearchCritical Reviews in NeurobiologyRecent Patents on CNS Drug DiscoveryCNS & Neurological Disorders - Drug TargetsOpen Medicinal Chemistry JournalOpen Drug Discovery Journal, and British Journal of Pharmacology.

Objectives

The Chair will study the mechanisms by which the intestinal microbiome and metabolic syndrome interact through the endocannabinoidome. The microbiome is the complex system comprising the intestinals microbial population as well as its dynamics, structure, and functions.

The endocannabinoidome is a network of chemical signals linked to the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating and stabilizing bodily functions. Since the intestinal microbiome is closely linked to diet, it is important to study how diet influences its structure and functions in order to understand how it influences cardiometabolic health. The Chair intends to deepen and expand knowledge on the subject by examining several questions simultaneously, including the following: 

  • Through what mechanisms does the dysregulation of the intestinal microbiome lead to obesity and the development of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses?
  • Can interventions on nutrition, surgery, and behaviour modulate the intestinal microbiome to improve metabolic, gastrointestinal, and cardiac health, and if so, how?
  • Where, when, and how does the intestinal microbiome affect the endocannabinoid system, and what are the consequences?

To answer these questions, Pr. Di Marzo will assemble a high-calibre research team at Université Laval to work closely with the International Joint Unit on chemical and biomolecular microbiome research and its impacts on metabolic health, which was recently created by Université Laval and Italy's National Research Council. 

Benefits

To date, studies on obesity have focused primarily on genetic, physiological, and behavioural factors. By integrating a study of the microbiome into conventional approaches, the Chair will expand upon research into this multifactorial disease by shedding light on the complex and subtle mechanisms modulating metabolic health in response to diet. The Chair will help identify new research avenues, targets, and approaches for maintaining health and preventing the metabolic complications of obesity.

Partners

The creation of this Chair attests to the reputation for excellence of the scientific research teams at Université Laval and to 60 years of ongoing effort to improve population health. The research carried out by Vicenzo Di Marzo builds on the extensive expertise of various UL entities, including the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Food and Agriculture Science, the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute Research Centre, renowned for its integrated studies into obesity and chronic social illness, and the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods, which is known for its multidisciplinary work on the effects of food on health and the prevention of diet-related chronic illnesses.

Collaboration with the Québec-Italy International Joint Unit will help researchers identify, develop, and formulate new drugs for metabolic health. This new Canada Excellence Research Chair joins 3 other cutting-edge CERC research programs in which Université Laval has been recognized as a leader in Canada:

These 4 CERCs contribute to the scientific program of Sentinel North. This unprecedented research program on the Canadian North led by Université Laval aims to provide a better understanding of humans, their environment, and the consequences of environmental changes on human health.

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