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Pieces of Eight


Researchers Examine Racial Differences in Burning Fat

By Doug Boyd

Researchers at East Carolina University are looking at differences in how fat metabolizes in white and black women in a four-year, $1 million study.


Ron Cortright, associate professor of exercise and sport science in the College of Health and Human Performance, is leading the study, which began in October. The research grew from previous studies that showed sedentary lean white women who start exercising immediately begin burning lipids, the group of compounds that includes fat. On the other hand, obese white and black women, and lean black women, don’t burn lipids right away. But after several weeks of a controlled exercise regimen, they start burning lipids.

Cortright pinpointed that an enzyme, acyl-CoA synthetase, that’s required for oxidizing fatty acids doesn’t work as well in African-American women as in white women. The new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will look for ways to activate that enzyme. Doing so will likely help people see results faster and stay motivated to continue their diet and exercise routines, Cortright said.

“Some individuals appear to be more predisposed to obesity than others,” Cortright said. “Your risk is multiplied in terms of morbidity and mortality. ECU is trying real hard to help the people in its community. We are dedicated to that.”

Working with Cortright are Hisham Barakat, a professor of internal medicine, associate director of research director of the ECU Diabetes and Obesity Center, and Lynis Dohm, a professor of physiology.

Cortright’s research funding in the area of fat metabolization began in 1997 while working with Dohm.

This page originally appeared in the Dec. 8, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at