April 16, 2013 12:24 ET

TOPS and Medical College of Wisconsin Discover Two New Genes Related to Obesity

MILWAUKEE, WI--(Marketwired - April 16, 2013) -  A novel study by the research team at the TOPS Obesity and Metabolic Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin has found evidence of new genes related to obesity. Findings from the study of DNA provided by 85 large families (up to four generations) of members of TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, showed two genes that may influence whether someone develops Metabolic Syndrome, which dramatically increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes. About one in five American adults are estimated to have Metabolic Syndrome.

A person with Metabolic Syndrome has at least three risk factors:
 • Abdominal obesity characterized by a large waistline or "apple shape"
 • Low levels of "good" cholesterol
 • High levels of triglycerides, a form of fat found in blood
 • High blood pressure
 • High fasting blood sugar, which can be an early sign of diabetes

So far, the TOPS families' DNA samples have made it possible for researchers to query almost one million variations in genes that are associated with whether or not someone develops the Metabolic Syndrome and how the disease surfaces in different people.

In the work recently accepted for publication in Obesity, the official journal of The Obesity Society, Yi (Sherry) Zhang, Ph.D., instructor in the department of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and her colleagues from the TOPS Obesity Center have been working to determine the full genetic picture of genetic makeup that influences the Metabolic Syndrome, including body composition, insulin resistance, and circulating blood levels of the hormone leptin, which is exclusively produced by fatty tissue.

In this work, they report evidence of two new genes that are responsible for observed differences in these features in these TOPS families. One gene affects the regulation of growth and development of newborn infants, as well as glucose/insulin response, lipid profiles, and body weight in adults. The other gene influences pro-inflammatory pathways, which are precursors of traits of Metabolic Syndrome.

"This is the first published work of our genome-wide survey, and we expect a series of reports will soon follow to address other aspects of this complex disease," Dr. Zhang said. "This work could lead to the creation of early diagnostic tools for detecting risks for developing obesity, as well as the discovery of drugs targeted specifically to these genes."

"We've all heard such common expressions as, 'You have your mom's eyes,' or 'I developed high blood pressure in my '40s, just like my grandfather," notes Barbara Cady, TOPS President. "When we discuss 'inheritance' like this, we're relating to a question that scientists have been striving to answer for decades: how does our genetic makeup determine our traits? Knowing which genes are detrimental to our health may help researchers develop a strategic plan to treat or even prevent the symptoms that are caused by these genes."

An abstract of the scientific paper, titled "QTL-based association analyses reveal novel genes influencing pleiotropy of Metabolic Syndrome (MetS)," is available online at This is the latest in a series of papers based on the TOPS Obesity and Metabolic Research samples housed at the Medical College of Wisconsin as part of an ongoing partnership.


TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) is the original weight-loss support and wellness education organization. Founded more than 65 years ago, TOPS is the only nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization of its kind. TOPS promotes successful weight management with a "Real People. Real Weight Loss.®" philosophy that combines support from others at weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise, and wellness information. TOPS has about 150,000 members -- male and female, age seven and older -- in nearly 9,000 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.

Visitors are welcome to attend their first TOPS meeting free of charge. Membership is affordable at just $28 per year in the U.S. and $32 per year in Canada, plus nominal chapter fees. To find a local chapter, view or call (800) 932-8677.


The Medical College of Wisconsin is the state's only private medical school and health sciences graduate school. Founded in 1893, it is dedicated to leadership and excellence in education, patient care, research and service. More than 1,200 students are enrolled in the Medical College's medical school and graduate school programs. A major national research center, it is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee metro area and second largest in Wisconsin. In FY 2011 - 12, faculty received more than $166 million in external support for research, teaching, training and related purposes, of which more than $152 million is for research. This total includes highly competitive research and training awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Annually, College faculty direct or collaborate on more than 2,000 research studies, including clinical trials. Additionally, more than 1,350 physicians provide care in virtually every specialty of medicine for more than 425,000 patients annually.

Contact Information

  • Contact information
    Kimberly Greene
    Ron Sonntag Public Relations, Inc.
    (414) 354-0200 x110

    Shannon Luckey
    TOPS Club, Inc.
    (414) 482-4620 x41