Current Research Focus - Origins of Obesity


Obesity is one of the most significant heath care issues of the 21st century because it significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Obesity can also impact psychological factors associated with the quality of life of an individual. Obesity related dysfunction can be potentially initiated in utero. Children of obese mothers are at a higher risk for becoming obese and developing these risk factors later in life. The environment of the fetus, in the womb, may contribute to the predisposition of the child towards developing obesity related disorders by impacting on mitochondrial function. Mitochondria produce cellular energy and when they do not function properly, increased levels of free radicals may be formed. This can worsen the course of disease progression in the child. Antioxidant therapies can help to reduce the free radical damage that occurs to fetal tissues and reduce the probability of the child suffering from obesity and its related disorders.

Overall Objectives of the Laboratory

My Laboratory focuses on understanding how obesity during pregnancy can affect the development and function of placenta. This can result in changes to the growth of the fetus as well as the post-natal health of the baby. Using animal models we attempt to decipher the cellular processes important for influencing these outcomes and contribute to early determinants of health and disease.

Specific Projects

  1. Do overweight dams deliver pups that have mitochondrial dysfunction early in their development? Does this dysfunction contribute to the development of diabetes and/or cardiovascular dysfunction.
  2. Does the accumulation of triglyceride result in altered mitochondrial function in adipocytes? Is elevated oxidative stress a potential signaling medium?
  3. Does maternal obesity affect the mitochondria in the placenta? What role does oxidative stress have in mediating placental dysfunction?

Methods Utilized in the Laboratory

  1. Monitoring of markers of oxidative stress
  2. Quantification of free radical production
  3. Measurement of the proteins responsible for free radical defense
  4. Animal handling- monitoring food intake and body weight, blood pressure; analysis of body composition (DEXA scanning)
  5. Tissue culture-transfection of cell lines; intercellular communication through co-cultures
  6. Genomics-gene expression analysis using RT-PCR and microarrays; DNA methylation assays
  7. Proteomics-Identification of phosphoproteins; antigen and antibody microarrays; analysis of protein content (western blotting)
  8. Live-cell microscopy
  9. Oxygen respirometry-measurement oxygen consumption whole cells and isolated mitochondria
  10. Immunohistochemistry-quantifying tissue and cell type specific changes protein
    expression at the maternal/fetal interface.