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Even if a pattern of eating does not provide an excess of calories, the types and relative amounts of carbohydrate, fat, and protein consumed can lead to “abnormalities” in metabolism in liver, adipose tissue, and muscle. Some of these effects are due to changes in regulation of metabolic pathways by insulin. “Insulin Resistance” (IR) refers to any decrease in the effect of a given concentration of insulin; IR is an early event in the development of type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions.
We have been studying the effects of diets that are low in calories but have a high percentage of particular types of fats. Such diets alter the liver’s metabolic response to insulin, as seen in the hormone’s regulation of gene expression and blood glucose level.
In our lab, we investigate the metabolism of lipids, focusing on lipolysis, the mechanism of hydrolysis of triacylglycerols, which is the main form of energy storage in adipose tissue (or fat).
We focus on the enzymes that catalyze the hydrolysis of triacylglycerol, like adipose triglyceride lipase (ATGL), and proteins that regulate the process, in particular ABHD5 (alpha beta hydrolase domain 5). We are interested in how these proteins regulate the hydrolysis of lipids.
These proteins are important because mutations that inactivate them cause accumulation of lipids in the liver, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is the most common liver disease, and it is strongly associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Moreover, NAFLD can lead to cell death, inflammation, cirrhosis, and cancer.
We use in-vitro assay, cell culture, and mouse models, and techniques of molecular biology, protein purification and analysis, enzymology, and lipidomics.
Our objective is to better understand the metabolism of triacylglycerols and its alterations in NAFLD and obesity, and to identify new ways to prevent and treat these diseases.
We investigate how taste and smell influence diet and health. In particular, we focus on understanding individual differences in why we like what we like, and how these individual differences can influence dietary choices. For example, humans are born to like sweet-tasting foods and beverages. However, some people also like sweet taste more than others. My goal is to understand how genetic, environmental, and cultural factors interact to affect personalized taste preferences, and how personal preference ultimately leads to nutrient consumption.
Motherhood is not easy. What this mom eats affects her pups in the long term.
Our lab is interested in the metabolism and functions of nutrients participating in one carbon metabolism, such as choline, folate, and vitamin B12. Our recent research shows that supplementation of choline during pregnancy prevents fetal overgrowth and excess adiposity in mice with gestational diabetes. Using various techniques such as epigenetic and metabolomic analyses and in collaboration with local hospitals, we are exploring the mechanisms by which prenatal exposure to one carbon nutrients “programs” cardio-metabolic disease development of offspring in rodent models and human patients.
Broadly speaking, my research has been concerned with understanding the impact of social and psychological variables on health status. I have approached this issue in two related but distinct ways. First, I have investigated how the social environment causes people to get sick in the first place, and in particular how stressful life events, such as the inter-institutional relocation of chronic care patients, impact mortality and morbidity. And second, I have investigated why certain individuals, once sick, engage in behaviors that will restore their health, while other individuals do not. In this context I’ve concentrated on developing and testing the utility of measures of the Health Belief Model for explaining such compliance behaviors as adherence to a post-MI rehabilitative exercise program and appointment-keeping for patients with lupus. As such, my research has focused on both the social etiology of disease as well as on the determinants of health behavior.
Diagram of social and behavioral determinants of health, syndemics and health disparities
We have been investigating social and behavioral determinants of health, syndemics and health disparities. Our overarching research areas are prevention of transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, and prevention of fatal drug overdose. We are currently focusing on two specific projects: one comparing trends in heroin and prescription opioid use over time by racial/ethnic group, and another attempting to understand how generational changes in social norms may be related to changes in drug use and risk of HIV infection and overdose.
View of two different growing conditions, soil based vs ‘permaponics’
We are comparing two different growing conditions, soil based versus “permaponics” on growth and secondary metabolites of selected plants. Permaponics is a soil-less based system that combines the best features of both hydroponics and aquaponics to create a system that is both energy efficient and environmentally sound.
Research Assistant Recruitment
A silhouette of two martial arts practitioners
The major thrust of Dr. Weston’s research has been in the area of racial identity, specifically the impact of racial identity on mental and public health outcomes such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, cancer, coronary heart disease, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C virus, and serious and persistent mental illness. His funded research projects have included the use of computer-assisted instruction as a tool for the dissemination of health related information to communities of African descent. Critical components of the research program include the role of racial identity, as operationalized through Nigrescence Theory; and the use of partnerships with community-based institutions/organizations (e.g., the Black Church, substance abuse programs) to disseminate the health-related information.
Currently, Weston’s research focuses on the role of physical activity, especially martial arts training as a tool for health promotion and disease prevention in communities of color.
Are you interested in working with growing food and herbs?
The Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences is embarking on new research activities that will explore the dietary quality and micronutrient contents of plant foods and herbs grown in different indoor growing systems, such as soil-based, hydroponics, aquaponics, permaponics, and compost.
Student research interns will oversee overall project work and maintain everyday operations of the growing lab, planning of activities, documentation, and background research. As part of a collaborative research team you will develop new project initiatives for the greenhouse.
If interested, e-mail your résumé to Roseanne Schnoll.