Written by: Anne Heaney

The UAB Obesity Health Disparities Research Center (OHDRC) recently announced two pilot project recipients for 2021-2022. Christy Foster, MD, Assistant Professor atConsultant showing data analysis concept on screen with charts for business intelligence and strategy UAB; and Ammar Alishlash, MD, Assistant Professor at UAB; were both awarded funding to complete their research project.

“Obesity is a major public health issue, and we are confident that these two pilot projects will make significant contribution toward the understanding of the intersection between obesity and social determinants of health and associated health disparities,” said Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH, one of the leaders for the Investigator Development Core.

Their work is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (U54MD000502).

Dr. Foster - Epigenetic Age in African American Adolescents with Obesity

Dr. Christy Foster is an Assistant Professor in the UAB Department of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology. She is studying changes in epigenetic age that occur in adolescents with obesity.

Epigenetic age is an estimation of biological age based on changes to the DNA and how the influence of environment and behavior can alter gene expression. With this pilot funding, Dr. Foster and her collaborators hope to better understand the influence that obesity has on epigenetic age in adolescents.

“I am very grateful to have been selected as a recipient of this award as one of my clinical areas of interest has centered on weight management and obesity,” Dr. Foster said. “Receiving this pilot funding allows us to ask questions regarding the impact of obesity and its comorbidities in adolescence.”

Over the course of the next year, Dr. Foster’s research team will study factors which could lead to advanced epigenetic age in relation to obesity. 


 Dr. Alishlash - Obesity Exacerbates Pulmonary Complications in Children with Sickle Cell Disease

Dr. Ammar Saadoon Alishlash, Assistant Professor at the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, is another recipient of the pilot research funding.

Over his years with Children’s of Alabama, Dr. Alishlash has seen many children battle Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). While a lot of patients with SCD suffer from breathing difficulties, one of the most common causes of death for children with SCD is a pulmonary complication called "acute chest syndrome."

Children with SCD who are obese are at increased risk of pulmonary complications. Dr. Alishlash’s project will investigate if obesity in children with SCD leads to adverse lung health, especially acute chest syndrome.

“Our research team includes experts in clinical and laboratory research of SCD, pulmonary diseases, and nutrition.” Dr. Alishlash said. “We will work in collaboration with the OHDRC cores to investigate if obesity worsens lung diseases in children with SCD.”

Dr. Alishlash’s team will determine modifiable risk factors of lung diseases in children with SCD to design preventive strategies that can be implemented clinically.

“We hope that our efforts will result in improving the quality of life and longevity of people with SCD by improving their lung health starting during childhood. I applaud the efforts of the OHDRC to support projects that look at solutions to the causes of health disparity in our communities,” Dr. Alishlash said.


UAB Obesity Health Disparities Research Center (OHDRC) is driven to reduce obesity and obesity related health disparities in Alabama. The Center supports transdisciplinary, multi-level, and multi-domain research to understand the complex contributors to obesity and related health disparities. The OHDRC fosters collaborative research, supports young investigators, and partners to build healthier communities. The OHDRC, Grant Number U54MD000502, is an MHRC initiative funded through the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities Centers of Excellence Program. www.uab.edu/medicine/obesity.


The UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC), established in 2002, generates and disseminates research knowledge from biomedical, behavioral, and social sciences in order to reduce the health disparities experienced by vulnerable populations and disadvantaged communities locally, regionally, and nationally. By aligning research, training and community outreach, the MHRC advances scientific knowledge about the root causes of health inequalities and delivers real-world solutions to vulnerable communities. The MHRC is a University-wide Interdisciplinary Research Center and a designated Center of Excellence in Health Disparities Research by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).