$250K grant supports lipedema research

Assistant Professor Atefeh Rabiee with postdoctoral researcher Kapil Dev

In September 2021, Atefeh Rabiee, PhD, assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology, received a $250,000 grant from the Lipedema Foundation for the project “Turning up the heat on Lipedema.”

“This research is strongly motivated by the growing medical and economic costs of obesity and associated disorders,” said Dr. Rabiee. “One of the unique fat disorders our research specifically focuses on is lipedema, a common but not well-recognized fat storage disorder mostly found as excessive fat in the hip areas of females.”

Lipedema greatly impacts patients as this type of fat appears to be resilient to exercise and diet. Research suggests that in 60 percent of patients with lipedema the fat disorder is caused by genetics, but further research is needed as the underlying pathophysiologic cause is not fully known.

“We aim to identify the potential pharmacological and non-pharmacological compounds to convert the lipedema fat to thermogenic fat, thereby paving the way for future lipedema therapies,” Dr. Rabiee said.

Assistant Professor Atefeh Rabiee

She is currently assisted by Pharmaceutical and Chemical Sciences Program doctor of philosophy student Ankita Poojari ’25 and postdoctoral researcher Kapil Dev, PhD. Dr. Rabiee welcomes doctor of pharmacy students who are interested in joining the research team.

Due to the strong correlation between lipedema and adipose plasticity, Dr. Rabiee will be investigating this further with a $5,000 Holmok Cancer Research Grant.

“The reason for lipedema excess fat is the plasticity of adipose tissue and fat cells, allowing them to expand with no limit,” she said. “The plasticity is also the main characteristic of the adipose tissue, which I would like to take advantage of and convert the lipedema bad fat into healthy calorie-burning fat.”

Dr. Rabiee has been passionate about contributing to the understanding of lipedema since she was introduced to this disease at an adipose tissue conference in 2019. In December 2021, she received a $3,000 Rupley-Church for International Relations Award, allowing her to attend the International Conference on Orphan Drugs and Rare Diseases, where she was able to connect with fellow scientists who are investing their time and energy into developing treatments for rare diseases.