The research will specifically aim to identify if long-term weight loss from gastric bypass or bariatric surgery is due solely to changes in appetite and food choices, or if it is also associated with changes in metabolic rate following surgery.
The grant has been awarded under the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme. It will bring together world-leading nutrition and neuroscientist researchers from Ulster University, Florida State University and University College Dublin.
Bariatric surgery has been found to consistently allow patients to lose a quarter of their weight and maintain the weight loss for several decades. The safety of bariatric surgery is similar to that of hip replacements or gall bladder surgery, but the potential health gains are vast with many patients overcoming type 2 diabetes, mobility problems and sleep apnoea.
Some studies have also indicated the weight loss surgery can reduce heart attacks by a quarter and cancer by a third. However the surgery is only currently available on the NHS in England, Wales and Scotland, so the highly innovative project will monitor local bariatric surgery patients treated by an independent healthcare company, Phoenix Irish Health.
Professor Barbara Livingstone, Ulster University, one of the scientists leading the research, said: "Our research will not just examine the effectiveness of gastric bypass, or bariatric surgery, it will also examine behavioural changes in patients which may contribute to the long term success of the procedure.
"Obesity levels are increasing globally and the associated medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancers are placing strain on already-challenged healthcare resources. It is vital that we fully investigate not just the effectiveness of treatments but also any associated factors such as patient's attitudes and behaviours towards food, which may assist in helping everyone to make healthier food and lifestyle choices.
"Ulster University is uniquely positioned to play a critical role in the research as it is one of the only universities in Europe to have a fully-equipped residential research facility which allows full observation of patients immediately before and after surgery.
"This facility will enable researchers to obtain a fundamental understanding of behaviours and attitudes to food so we can understand how a change in these behaviours after surgery may assist in the overall success of the surgical procedure."
The US-Ireland Research and Development Funding Programme is a unique arrangement. It involves funding agencies in the USA, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which combine resources to enable the best researchers from Ireland and the USA to work together on research to address critical issues and generate valuable discoveries that will impact on patient care.
Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the Public Health Agency's HSC R&D Division, which is funding the Northern Ireland part of this project with support from the Medical Research Council, said: "We are delighted to be funding this project which will examine the effectiveness of surgical procedures in the fight against obesity. We expect that the outcomes from this international research will lead to significant advances in the treatment of obese patients in the UK, Ireland and beyond."