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Publications from the TARGET project

Childhood obesity evolves at a pandemic scale with significant implications for future health and disease, including increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as well as a shortening in expected lifespan. Childhood obesity, therefore, not only poses a significant risk on the health of the individual but also greatly strains the health care systems.  

Recent research indicates that both human genetic variation and the gut microbiome composition are involved in the pathogenesis of obesity, however, so far only a fraction of the genetic contribution to childhood obesity has been identified. Furthermore, knowledge on how genetic variation or specific microbiome profiles may influence the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity is so far very limited.

During the recent few years, major advances in the genetic field have led to a revolution in sequencing technologies. Massively parallel DNA sequencing of large parts of the genome has made targeted sequencing of the coding regions of all ~20,000 human genes (the exome) practically possible.

The overall aim of the TARGET project is therefore to identify human genetic variation and/or gut microbiome profiles which associate with childhood obesity, weight reduction, and/or weight maintenance/gain in obese children following a tailored weight loss intervention.

Approximately 1,500 children and adolescents are recruited from The Children’s Obesity Clinic, which since 2008 has offered a tertiary multidisciplinary treatment for childhood obesity. The treatment protocol is based on a family-centered approach involving behavior-changing techniques which can be considered best-practice on the basis of current evidence. Furthermore, approximately 1,000 children who are recruited from schools and high schools in the region of Zealand will participate as controls in the study.

The recruitment of children is carried out in a tight collaboration with the BioChild project, which is a Danish-Indian research initiative focusing on lifestyle diseases in children.

Through whole exome sequencing we aim to identify new genes associated with obesity. Furthermore, we have developed novel methods to identify and characterize specific subsets of the bacterial intestinal microbiome with a putative impact on metabolic health.

The cross-disciplinary collaboration between medical doctors treating children with severe obesity, experts in genetics and in functional studies as well as world class microbiologists will in combination with the use of state-of-the-art sequencing technologies create a unique opportunity to decipher the etiology of childhood obesity. The collaborative research project is headed by Professor Torben Hansen.

The TARGET project is funded by The Danish Strategic Research Council with a grant of 19.6 million DKK over 4 years.

The Danish Council for Strategic Research