LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Kentucky has received $11 million from the National Institutes of Health to study the link between two of Kentucky's biggest health problems, cancer and obesity.

The link between smoking and cancer is well established. But now, armed with the federal funds, UK is exploring the connection between your weight, your metabolism and your cancer risk.

“We see this as a real opportunity to focus efforts on better understanding the factors that affect obesity-related cancers and really, hopefully, be able to attack those cancers,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of UK’s Markey Cancer Center.

The research is important because Kentucky is in the top 10 for obesity rates and leads the nation in cancer deaths.

“We don't know exactly what those factors are that link obesity and cancer, but we're certainly hoping that this grant will help sort that out,” Evers told WDRB News.

The $11.2 million grant will pay for both researchers and equipment, much of it to be located in the new research center now under construction.

UK President Eli Capilouto says the grant further enhances the university's reputation as a center for cancer research.

“This is the type of research that we, the University for Kentucky, are uniquely positioned to conduct,” he said.

Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell helped UK secure the grant.

He has said that he opposes the President's plan to cut funding for medical research. In fact, McConnell recently pushed through a bill increasing funding for the NIH by $6 billion.

“This team you see up here will be fully able to take full advantage of the opportunities that are going to be coming down the road,” he said.

Opportunities to continue the research that could help save lives.

“A lot of researchers are becoming frustrated with the field, with dwindling NIH funds. So, this will help train that next generation,” said Evers.

The grant lasts for five years, but if the results of the research show promise, it could be renewed for up to 15 years.

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