Childhood Trauma and Genetics Linked to Increased Obesity Risk

DRI | March 10, 2022

New research from the Healthy Nevada Project® found associations between genetics, obesity, and childhood trauma, linking social health determinants, genetics, and disease. The study, which was published this week in Frontiers in Genetics, found that participants with specific genetic traits and who experience childhood traumas are more likely to suffer from adult obesity.

In 2016, DRI and Renown Health launched the Healthy Nevada Project®, the nation’s first community-based, population health study, which now has more than 60,000 participants. The project is a collaboration with personal genomics company, Helix, and combines genetic, environmental, social, and clinical data to address individual and community health needs with the goal of improving health across the state and the nation.

The new study focuses on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are traumatic and unsafe events that children endure by the age of 18. Over 16,000 participants in the Healthy Nevada Project® answered a mental health survey, and more than 65 percent of these individuals self-reported at least one ACE occurrence. These 16,000 participants were cross-referenced with their genetic makeup, and clinical Body Mass Index (BMI) measures.

According to the research team’s findings, study participants who had experienced one or more types of ACE were 1.5 times more likely to become obese adults. Participants who experienced four or more ACEs were more than twice as likely to become severely obese.

Our analysis showed a steady increase in BMI for each ACE a person experienced, which indicates a very strong and significant association between the number of adverse childhood experiences and adult obesity, More importantly, participants’ BMI reacted even more strongly to the occurrence of ACEs when paired with certain mutations in several genes, one of which is strongly associated with schizophrenia.”

lead author Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., of DRI.

We know that genetics affect disease in the Healthy Nevada Project®, and now we are recognizing that ACEs also affect disease, Our new study shows that the combination of genes and environmental factors like ACEs, as well as many social determinants of health, can lead to more serious health outcomes than either variable alone. More broadly, this new work emphasizes how important it is for population genetic studies to consider the impact of social determinants on health outcomes.”

Healthy Nevada Project® Principal Investigator Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., of DRI and Renown Health.

The study team believes that it is important for clinical caregivers to understand the strong impact that negative childhood experiences such as ACEs can have on both child and adult health. The researchers hope the information from this study will encourage doctors and nurses to conduct simple screenings for ACEs and consider a patient’s social environment and history in combination with genetics when developing treatment plans for better patient health.

According to the 2019 Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YRBS), 25.6 percent of Washoe County teenagers are overweight or obese. Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults.

Obese and overweight children and adolescents are at risk for multiple health problems during their youth, which are likely to be more severe as adults, Obese and overweight youth are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, in addition to a healthy diet, helps to prevent and control multiple chronic diseases and improves quality of life for a lifetime.”

Max J. Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAP, Nell J Redfield Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, Physician in Chief of Renown Children's Hospital.

We’d like to thank all of the Healthy Nevada Project® participants who provided information to make our work possible, Our research illustrates that it’s not just genetics that cause disease, but that our environment and life experiences interact with our genes to impact our health in ways that we are only beginning to understand.”

Robert Read, M.S., of DRI.

About DRI
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education.


The first step in engaging women and minorities in clinical trials is finding them. Research has shown that minority patients seek physicians of their own race, so bringing these doctors into trials is critical. Physicians are the gateway to the patient. There are a number of organizations dedicated to training female and minority investigators to increase their participation, including the National Clinical Trials Network, National Minority AIDS Council, Project IMPACT (Increase Minority Participation and Awareness of Clinical Trials, initiated by the National Medical Association), and the National Hispanic Research Network. Some pharmaceutical companies are also taking their own initiatives.


The first step in engaging women and minorities in clinical trials is finding them. Research has shown that minority patients seek physicians of their own race, so bringing these doctors into trials is critical. Physicians are the gateway to the patient. There are a number of organizations dedicated to training female and minority investigators to increase their participation, including the National Clinical Trials Network, National Minority AIDS Council, Project IMPACT (Increase Minority Participation and Awareness of Clinical Trials, initiated by the National Medical Association), and the National Hispanic Research Network. Some pharmaceutical companies are also taking their own initiatives.

Related News


iXCells Biotechnologies Secures Strategic Growth Investment from Great Point Partners

iXCells Biotechnologies | September 30, 2022

iXCells Biotechnologies a high growth provider of cell-based products and discovery services to the academic, biotech and pharmaceutical communities worldwide, with special focus on primary and induced pluripotent stem cell derived cellular models, today announced receiving a growth investment from Connecticut-based Great Point Partners a private investment firm focusing on the healthcare industry. “iXCells is delighted to join GPP’s portfolio of companies operating within the rapidly growing biotech manufacturing and DD&D services space. We’re grateful for GPP’s support of our vision to translate human cell technology into innovative solutions that advance cell biology research and drug discovery. Our partnership with GPP is a critical step forward for our Company’s growth journey.” Dr. Lynn Zhang, CEO and co-founder iXCells President and co-founder, Dr. Nianwei Lin added, “Our customers will clearly benefit from the deployment of additional capital towards key growth initiatives that will increase iXCells’ operational capacity, expand our product/service offering and bioanalytical capabilities. In particular, we’ll be strengthening our ability to service unmet market needs in areas of personalized medicine including rare diseases. We’re very much looking forward to collaborating with GPP’s management team and broad network to advance iXCells’ mission for the benefit of all stakeholders.” Noah Rhodes, Managing Director at GPP, commented, “Lynn and Nianwei have done an exceptional job building a rapidly growing company serving academic, biotech and pharma clients with best-in-class drug discovery solutions and disease-relevant cellular models. We were extremely impressed by the scientific expertise the management team has built within the organization, and we look forward to helping them expand their product and service offering into adjacent high-growth end markets.” About iXCells Biotechnologies Founded in 2014 and based in San Diego, CA, iXCells Biotechnologies is an innovative cell biology and cell technology company that provides preclinical drug discovery solutions with the focus on disease relevant cellular models enabling technologies and services to the academic, biotech and pharma communities to accelerate the pace of drug discovery. iXCells offers customers access to high quality primary and iPSC derived cells, custom iPSC services, functional bioassay development and drug screening. About Great Point Partners Great Point Partners, founded in 2003 and based in Greenwich, CT, is a leading health care investment firm with 30 professionals, investing in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. GPP is currently making new minority and majority private equity investments from GPP IV. Great Point manages $1.5B of capital in its private funds and public life sciences equity strategy (BioMedical Value Fund). Great Point Partners has provided growth equity, growth recapitalization, and management buyout financing to more than 200 growing health care companies. The private equity funds invest across all sectors of the health care industry with a particular emphasis on biopharmaceutical services and supplies, alternate site care, medical device and information technology enabled businesses. The firm pursues a proactive and proprietary approach to sourcing investments and tuck-in acquisitions for its portfolio companies.

Read More


Eiger BioPharmaceuticals Provides Update on Plans for Emergency Use Authorization Application Following FDA Feedback

Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, Inc. | October 06, 2022

Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, Inc. a commercial-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of innovative therapies for hepatitis delta virus and other serious diseases, today announced that, following feedback from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the company will not submit an emergency use authorization application of peginterferon lambda for the treatment of patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19. Following Eiger's press release on September 6, 2022, the company submitted a pre-EUA meeting request to FDA, as well as additional morbidity and mortality outcomes data and analyses from the investigator-sponsored TOGETHER study. This included further statistical modeling and efficacy analyses of the study's primary and secondary endpoints and long-term follow-up data that the company believes continue to support the initial positive topline outcomes reported in March. In response, FDA denied the request for a pre-EUA meeting. Citing its concerns about the conduct of the TOGETHER study, FDA concluded that any authorization request based on these data is unlikely to meet the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA in the current context of the pandemic. FDA suggested that, given peginterferon lambda's mechanism of action and the ongoing need for improved COVID-19 therapeutics, Eiger consider requesting an end-of-Phase 2 meeting to discuss a company-sponsored pivotal trial that could support an eventual Biologics License Application. Eiger is evaluating next steps for this program, in the U.S., as well as ex-U.S. emergency use authorization pathways and strategic options for continued development of peginterferon lambda for COVID-19 and other respiratory viral infections. "While we are disappointed that FDA will not consider an EUA application based on results generated from the TOGETHER study, we continue to have strong conviction in the potential of peginterferon lambda to confer a meaningful benefit for patients with COVID-19 and other respiratory viral infections. COVID-19 related deaths remain alarmingly high around the globe, including in the U.S. where, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 400 people die every day from this disease." David Cory, President and CEO, Eiger Eiger is advancing a late-stage pipeline of multiple FDA Breakthrough Therapy designated programs in Phase 3, including lonafarnib and peginterferon lambda for hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection, and avexitide for congenital hyperinsulinism. The company expects to report topline data from D-LIVR, Eiger's landmark Phase 3 study of lonafarnib-based regimens for HDV, by year end. About TOGETHER Study TOGETHER is an independent multi-center, investigator-sponsored, randomized, placebo-controlled adaptive platform Phase 3 study evaluating therapeutics in newly diagnosed, high-risk, non-hospitalized patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19. TOGETHER is the largest placebo-controlled study in COVID-19 and has evaluated 11 different therapeutic agents for non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The study was ongoing at the time the peginterferon lambda arm was added. The evaluation of peginterferon lambda versus placebo was the second largest study to date of a COVID-19 therapeutic of > 1,900 patients. Eligibility criteria required that all patients had laboratory-confirmed mild or moderate COVID-19 and were randomized within seven days of symptom onset. The study enrolled patients regardless of vaccination status or variant strain of SARS-CoV-2. The primary endpoint was a reduction in risk of clinical outcome comparing hospitalizations or emergency room visits greater than six hours after a single subcutaneous injection of peginterferon lambda versus placebo through Day 28. A key secondary endpoint was reduction in risk of hospitalizations or death in patients when dosed within three days of symptom onset. The TOGETHER study recruited from 12 sites in Brazil and 5 sites in Canada. About Peginterferon Lambda Peginterferon lambda is an investigational late-stage, first-in-class, type III interferon that stimulates immune responses that are critical for the development of host protection during viral infections and has been well-tolerated in clinical studies. Eiger is developing peginterferon lambda for the treatment of HDV infection. Peginterferon lambda has been administered to over 4,000 subjects in 28 clinical trials of HBV, HCV, HDV and COVID-19. Peginterferon lambda is an investigational agent and not yet approved for any indication. Eiger has received Orphan Designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency, and Fast Track and Breakthrough Therapy Designation by FDA for peginterferon lambda in HDV. About Eiger Eiger is a commercial-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of innovative therapies for hepatitis delta virus (HDV) and other serious diseases. The Eiger HDV platform includes two first-in-class therapies in Phase 3 that target critical host processes involved in viral replication.

Read More


Casma Therapeutics Raises $46.0 M in Series C Funding

Casma Therapeutics, Inc. | November 21, 2022

Casma Therapeutics, Inc., a biotechnology company engaging the autophagy system to provide innovative new medicines, announced the closing of a Series C financing round of $46.0 million. New investors participating in the round include Amgen Ventures, LLC, Astellas Venture Management, Eisai Co., Ltd., Euclidean Capital, Mirae Asset, and Ono Venture Investment. Current investors Eventide Asset Management, LLC, Schroders Capital, The Column Group, Third Rock Ventures, and other funds also participated in the financing. Dr. Hiromichi Kimura, Investment Director of Astellas Ventures, has joined the board of directors. Dr. Tomotaka Okino of Ono Venture Investment and Amgen Ventures have joined as board observers. Casma will use proceeds to advance its lead program for MYD88 mutant lymphoma through preclinical and into IND enabling studies. “The closing of this financing has strengthened our resources to continue advancing our drug pipeline focused on autophagy-based degradation. We are thrilled to welcome several top-tier investors who recognize the potential of our biological platforms and therapeutic assets targeting well-known high-value and traditionally undruggable targets.” Keith Dionne, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Casma Therapeutics, Inc "Casma’s autophagy-based degradation platform, PHLYT™, is unique and impressive,” commented Dr. Kimura. “Along with a rich pipeline of autophagy degraders, the company has also established a highly qualified team with extensive scientific experience in drug development. We expect that this round of funding will accelerate development of Casma’s pipeline assets, especially its degrader for MYD88 mutant tumors.” About Casma Therapeutics, Inc. Casma Therapeutics, Inc. is developing novel cellular degradation approaches based on the autophagy pathway to open new target areas for drug discovery and development that will profoundly impact the lives of patients. Autophagy is a conserved cellular process that contributes to overall cellular homeostasis. The autophagy machinery targets large and complex disease targets such as organelles, protein aggregates and large signaling complexes and before directing them to the lysosome for elimination. By selectively degrading disease targets by autophagy, Casma expects to arrest or reverse the progression of disease in multiple oncology, inflammation, neurodegeneration, and metabolic disorders.

Read More