Laboratory Mission Statement The Shearer research program employs knowledge of nutrition and metabolism to predict, detect, prevent and treat acute and chronic metabolic disease states. Specific interests include how diet and chronic disease alter nutrient handling and regulation. Experimental models span the cell to animal models and the whole organism. Some of this work is then translated in human clinical studies examining the impact of specific foods and nutraceuticals on metabolism. In 2016, work in the laboratory focused on three main areas as follows:
Impact of Diet on Neurological Disorders Autism Spectrum Disorders are estimated to affect 1 in 68 children. The identification of safe, effective therapies and biologic markers of disease severity represent key milestones for scientific discovery that promise to lead to better ASD outcomes. One such novel therapy is the ketogenic diet (KD). The diet has an established efficacy for the treatment of intractable epilepsy and has gained attention as a therapy for improving the core symptoms of ASD. However, there are responders and non-responders to the diet. Our laboratory has established this may be due to differences in the gut microbiota that undergoes dramatic changes with the KD. In 2016, our laboratory published three important studies in this area. The first showed that the KD, a therapy known to improve behavoural outcomes also had profound impacts on the gut microbiota. In the second, we showed that the KD not only manpipulated the gut microbiota, but also affects circulating metabolites (metabolomics), key factors in gut-brain communication. Third, we began the process of understanding how the diet signals change at the molecular level. At present the laboratory is working with a human cohort and will expand work in this area through recruitment of an Owerko Center post-doctoral fellow (see: http://www.childrenshospital.ab.ca/site/PageNavigator/howtohelp/OwerkoCentre.html for more information.
Mitochondrial Regualtion and Flux Mitochondria are the power-house organelles of the cell responsible for energy production. Originally thought of as bean-shaped organelles, an influx of recent research has determined that mitochondria are actually highly dynamic, continuously joining through the process of fusion and dividing through the process of fission. The machinery responsible for fission and fusion processes dictates mitochondrial size and shape, and is tightly regulated alongside cellular signaling and stress response pathways. Our laboratory is interested in how fission and fusion (collectively known as mitochondrial dynamics) change in inherited (mitochondrial disease and autism) and metabolic disease states such as type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. This year, our laboratory filed a patent for a use of a fission inhibitor in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. This was an exciting step and represents a potentially new drug target.
Energy Drinks, Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals Since their introduction in 1987, energy drinks have become increasingly popular and the energy drink market has grown at record pace into a multi-billion dollar global industry. Energy drinks are frequently consumed by young people, students, office workers, athletes, weekend warriors, and service members. Due to the concentrations of caffeine, vitamins, and other energy blend components, they are different from sports drinks, juices, and/or soft drinks. The Shearer laboratory has been involved in the study and legislation of caffeine containing energy drinks for over a decade. For the first time this year (2016), the American College of Sports Medicine decided to release a position stand on the topic. This paper, authored by Dr. Shearer and her colleagues will inform athletes, legislators, medical professionals and the public about concerns related to energy drink use, especially in children. Other active areas of research include examination of novel foods and their impact on metabolism in collaboration with industry partners (MITACS funded graduate scholarships).
This supervisor is currently seeking students.
A doctoral and postdoctoral positions are available for a highly motivated individual interested in gut-generated metabolites and their role in chronic disease. Key candidate assets include: Fluent in written and spoken English; Established publication record; Prior experience with molecular biology and metabolomics; Excellent organizational skills; Advanced computing skills in metabolomics/or microbiome analysis; Ability to mentor junior trainees (e.g. undergraduate students); Excellent communication and presentation skills.
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