In Dr. Wasserman’s laboratory, my research is focused on defining molecular mechanisms underlying the development of insulin resistance in skeletal muscle. More specifically, my work aims to understand how the extracellular matrix and its associated integrin signaling pathway promote insulin resistance in diet-induced obesity. My primary project is focused on integrin-linked kinase (ILK), a pseudokinase scaffolding protein that is necessary for integrin signaling. Results from my studies demonstrate that ILK promotes insulin resistance, but is also required for increased fat oxidation and ectopic fat accumulation in diet-induced obese mice. This surprising discovery has significant implications for the regulation of cellular metabolism, because it has revealed an entirely novel pathway for the regulation of fatty acid metabolism. My long-term interests are to elucidate how integrins regulate fat oxidation in the context of obesity and diabetes, with an emphasis on the regulation of mitochondrial energetics.
My clinical mentor is Dr. John Cleek, Director of the Vanderbilt Medical Weight Loss Clinic. My goals in this capacity are to: 1) understand the primary barriers to weight loss in a clinical population preparing for bariatric surgery and 2) identify new avenues to link my basic research questions with relevant clinical outcomes.