USC diabetes researcher and KL2 program alumna Kathleen Page, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC, uses state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging to study how different foods activate appetite and reward centers in the brain. These centers help to regulate food intake, which if excessive can lead to obesity. Her studies have shown that two sugars commonly found in our food supply, glucose and fructose, have different effects on the brain. Fructose, a main component of the “high-fructose corn syrup” that serves as a sweetener in many foods, activates brain reward centers better and suppresses appetite centers less well than glucose, the body’s main sugar.

Thus, fructose may promote overeating compared to glucose.

Her group also showed that when young adults viewed pictures of high-calorie foods, like a picture of chocolate cake, their brain appetite and reward centers were activated, and they reported greater hunger and desire to eat. These neural and behavioral responses to high-calorie food cues could stimulate food intake.

Page is currently conducting studies to determine brain and behavioral responses to dual stimulation
by food images and sugar intake. These studies have important public health implications in a
society that is inundated with high-sugar foods and tantalizing food stimuli.

Despite being relatively early in her career as a clinical researcher, Page has already received several awards for her research. Most recently, she received the prestigious Pathway Accelerator Award from the American Diabetes Association for her translational research project entitled, “Neural
Mechanisms in Maternal-Fetal Programming for Obesity and Diabetes.” The award will provide $1.6 million in support for five years.

Page’s work has been published in top journals such as JAMA and PNAS, it was the basis for an op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times, and she has been featured by many national news services.

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