Research published in PLOS ONE

Nov. 18, 2015

Bill Colmers, PhD
Bil Colmers, PhD

(Edmonton, Alberta)… 40 percent of Canadians are obese. Six million Canadians living with obesity require immediate support managing and controlling their weight. New research on a particular region of the brain involved in body weight, conducted by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions’ (AIHS) Scientist, Bill Colmers, PhD, has been published in the journal PLOS ONE. Colmers’ research is a piece of the obesity puzzle that needs to be solved to lower obesity numbers and the related health problems for Canadians. 

In the October 2015 edition of the journal PLOS ONE, Colmers shows that an area of the brain, known as the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus, may hold the key to explaining why some obese people who diet can keep the pounds off and why others cannot. He shows that some animals that are fed a tasty high-fat diet, actively maintain that excess weight when returned to a low-fat diet. These animals overeat the tasty food, gain more weight, then preserve that unhealthy weight because of a change in the part of the brain that helps them survive in lean times. Brain cells in the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus, are responsible for controlling and regulating the body weight setpoint. This suggests that understanding the hormones that control this region of the brain may play a role in weight maintenance.

“Some animals that were fed a tasty high-fat diet overate, became fat, then defended the excess weight when we put them on a diet,” says Colmers. “Those animals responded as expected to the hormone that makes you eat, but not to hormone that makes you stop eating. The brothers and sisters of those animals that were on the same high-fat diet but did not overeat and get fat had the same response to the hormones that make you eat and the ones that make you stop eating. Returning the fat animals to the high-calorie diet for a few weeks also makes them again sensitive to the “stop-eating” hormone. We think that there is something that changes in the brains of the obese animals, so that it thinks their obese weight is a healthy body weight. Our future research is going to try and understand how that changes, where that changes, and why it changes.”

“Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research projects that address priority areas of health with the goal of contributing to the health of Albertans,” says Dr. Pamela Valentine, AIHS CEO (Interim). “Dr. Colmers’ research is a great example of how we’re helping to address obesity with research leading to innovations that can help people in our province and beyond.”





Bill Colmer, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology within the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta. For information about Bill Colmers’ research, visit:

Obesity has been growing substantially in Canada.  In 2010, there were over 13 million Canadians who were overweight and obese. In 2014, there were over 14 million Canadians who are reported as obese.

According to the Canadian Obesity Network, “a 2010 report estimated that direct costs of overweight and obesity represented $6 billion – 4.1 % of Canada’s total health care budget. However, this estimate only accounts for health care costs related to obesity, and does not account for productivity loss, reductions in tax revenues, or psychosocial costs.”

“One in four adult Canadians and one in 10 children have clinical obesity, meaning six million Canadians living with obesity may require immediate support in managing and controlling their weight. As a leading cause of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer, the condition impacts those who have obesity, their families, employers, neighbours, health practitioners and governments,” cited by the Canadian Obesity Network.

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and create health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. AIHS provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by directing, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and innovation.



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