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Kong Y. Chen, Ph.D., MSCI

Photo of Kong Chen
Scientific Focus Areas: Biomedical Engineering and Biophysics, Clinical Research, Epidemiology, Social and Behavioral Sciences

Professional Experience

  • Assistant Professor of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, and Surgery, Vanderbilt University, 1997-2006
  • M.S., Vanderbilt University, 2002
  • Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, 1997

Research Goal

The purpose of our research is to understand how human energy metabolism and physical activity are regulated, and how they impact diseases such as obesity.

Current Research

My laboratory focuses on human energy metabolism as it relates to health and disease. We have developed advanced techniques such as the whole-room indirect calorimeters (also called respiration or metabolic chambers) that we use to measure the rate of energy expenditure at the minute-by-minute level and substrate oxidation for several hours or for several days. We can also simultaneously measure movement and physiological parameters in this well-controlled environment to study the impacts of physical activities, diets, medications, and environmental temperatures on energy metabolism, heart rate, and hormonal responses. Currently, my laboratory focuses on the cold-induced thermogenesis, brown adipose tissue, muscle and autonomic nervous system activities, and body and skin temperature in response to subtle changes in environmental temperature in different populations. Another area of interest is the effect of pharmacological and dietary interventions on human energy metabolism and obesity. We are also developing new technologies for measuring energy metabolism, body composition, sleep, and physical activity in humans.

Applying our Research

The obesity epidemic has increased the general interests in metabolism, physical activity, sleep, and diet. By studying both normal healthy volunteers, subjects who are obese, and patients who have metabolic conditions, we can better understand how energy balance is regulated. This may lead to better treatment and prevention strategies.

Need for Further Study

The dynamic responses of energy metabolism under different stimuli are not well understood.

Select Publications

Mapping of human brown adipose tissue in lean and obese young men.
Leitner BP, Huang S, Brychta RJ, Duckworth CJ, Baskin AS, McGehee S, Tal I, Dieckmann W, Gupta G, Kolodny GM, Pacak K, Herscovitch P, Cypess AM, Chen KY.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A (2017 Aug 8) 114:8649-8654. Abstract/Full Text
Brown fat activation mediates cold-induced thermogenesis in adult humans in response to a mild decrease in ambient temperature.
Chen KY, Brychta RJ, Linderman JD, Smith S, Courville A, Dieckmann W, Herscovitch P, Millo CM, Remaley A, Lee P, Celi FS.
J Clin Endocrinol Metab (2013 Jul) 98:E1218-23. Abstract/Full Text
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Research in Plain Language

Like all animals, humans have to regulate energy usage or “metabolic rate” to perform functions. The food we take in provides us with fuel. In my laboratory, we have built specialized instruments that can accurately measure how many calories we use by measuring the air we breathe. From these studies, we can determine the amount of energy needed for resting or physical activities, and where the energy comes from. Energy can come from either fat or carbohydrates. We are also interested in studying how environmental factors, such as changes in environmental temperature, can alter our metabolic rates by changing metabolic activities of tissues such as the heart, muscle, and specially certain fat.