We are pleased to share that Dr. Kari Sant, Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health, has secured a career development grant (K01) from the National Institute of Health to study how exposures to chemicals affect the development of metabolic syndrome in live zebrafish. Metabolic syndrome is a suite of conditions indicative of overall metabolic health, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. Rates of metabolic syndrome have been increasing in recent decades–especially in children and adolescents. Though diet and exercise play crucial roles in the progression of metabolic syndrome, the contributions of environmental chemicals to metabolic syndrome have been gaining attention. Several prevalent environmental pollutants are known activators of the Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) signaling pathway–a process that governs metabolic processes such as the metabolism or storage of sugars and lipids. Therefore, PPAR signaling is believed to play a major role in metabolic syndrome, and pollutants acting through this pathway are commonly characterized as ‘obesogens.’
This grant, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, will explore how exposures to chemicals that modulate PPAR signaling impact pancreatic development during the embryonic and juvenile stages. The pancreas is a master regulator of metabolism, responsible for nutrient-sensing and secretion of important digestive hormones and enzymes such as insulin, glucagon, trypsin, lipase, and amylase. As much as 12% of the population is estimated to have pancreatic deformities since birth, though they often go undiscovered until diagnosis with diabetes or until autopsy. Here, our laboratory will monitor pancreas development in real-time by using live zebrafish embryos, which are structurally and functionally similar to humans in respect to pancreatic development. We will examine how enhanced or suppressed PPAR signaling affects pancreatic development, and assess how persistent environmental pollutants such as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) may contribute to pancreatic malformations and metabolic syndrome.