Lab Established July 1, 2004
The focus of my research is to better understand how dietary fats influence health and disease throughout life with emphasis on the prevention of chronic disease. Currently, a major area of study is the role of omega-3 fatty acids in breast cancer prevention. Studies are examining how early life exposure to omega-3 fatty acids influences mammary gland development and risk developing breast cancer later in life. In addition, I have interests in other bioactive fatty acids including trans fats and conjugated linoleic acids. Active research is also focused on nutrigenomics, investigating how polymorphisms present in fatty acid desaturase genes influences omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acid metabolism. Other areas of interest includes Alzheimer’s disease, bone metabolism, concussion injury and fatty liver disease.
Research activities in my lab utilize animal based models (transgenic and knock-out) which have been used to study the effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in multiple tissues including bone, brain, eyes, muscle, kidney, and liver. By studying the impact of fatty acids in a diversity of tissues, a big picture emerges demonstrating how the quality of fat in the diet influences the function and physical characteristics of tissues that may protect them against long term disease risk. For example, we have shown that lifelong exposure to omega-3 fatty acids reduce mammary tumour development, enhances bone strength, increases visual acuity, and supports a healthy brain. Thus, the inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may be useful in preventing breast cancer, osteoporosis, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Applied and translational research is conducted in the Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS). My specific research activities in the GFHS focus on investigating the role of dietary lipids, genomics, sugar, stress and other biomarkers in human health. I support ongoing research by the investigative team on multiple projects ranging from body composition, food literacy, food waste, dairy, eating behaviours and more.
In summary, broad questions being addressed in my research program include:
- role of fats in aging through the lifespan and influence on chronic disease prevention and treatment (i.e. breast cancer)
- effect of fatty acids on structure-function relationships at the level of the cell membrane (i.e. signalling through caveolae/lipid rafts)
- differentiating the biological role of fatty acids between and within families (i.e. ALA vs EPA/DHA)
- effect of fats on gene expression (genetic / epigenetic) and influence of polymorphisms (i.e. fatty acid desaturases)
- influence of fatty acids on stem cell function and differentiation (i.e. mammary)
- identifying determinants of health and the role of lifestyle and environmental factors on the prevention of chronic diseases
KEYWORDS: lipids, fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, n-3 PUFA, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), omega-6 fatty acids, n-6 PUFA, linoleic acid (LA), arachidonic acid (AA), disease prevention, mammary gland development, puberty, chronic disease, breast cancer, mammary gland, brain, Alzheimer’s disease, bone health, osteoporosis, fatty liver disease, eye health, macular degeneration, structure-function, eicosanoids, phospholipids, caveolae, lipid rafts, membrane microdomains, epigenetics, stem cell, lifecycle, aging, metabolism, lifestyle, exercise, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), fatty acid desaturases, lipidomics, nutrogenomics / nutrigenetics, health claims, fatty acid reference ranges, concussion, family health, sugar, stress, food literacy, food waste.