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Nika Larian, a PhD student in Lisa Cassis's lab at the UK Superfund Research Center, is studying the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AHR, a transcription factor with roles in drug metabolism and detoxification. She explains that if you knock out AHR in the fat tissue of mice, you can prevent the development of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-induced diabetes. PCBs are toxins that are present in the environment and have been linked to type 2 diabetes.
"I'm investigating natural components of the microbiome that are influenced by a high-fat diet, and may also be altered by exposure to PCBs. The microbiome is influenced by what we eat, including the consumption of a high-fat diet. So, at the cellular level, I can investigate all of these nutritional compounds that I'm interested in," Larian says, "If I find an effect, I can then take this to my animal model, introduce it into a diet, challenge the mice with a high-fat diet, and see if I can alter the development of obesity and diabetes."
PCBs and other environmental contaminants are lipophilic, meaning they accumulate in our fat tissue. When we lose weight, these toxins enter our bloodstream, where they can promote the development of diabetes. Nika explains, "These studies might provide nutritional interventions for individuals exposed to environmental contaminants, as well as offer strategies for ameliorating the effects we see when these toxins are liberated from adipose tissue upon weight loss." "Nika lives and breathes the essence of healthy nutrition in her own lifestyle, and strives to develop nutritional interventions that will reduce potential harmful effects of these persistent environmental contaminants on the development of diabetes. She is a role model for graduate students in many ways, most especially in her own healthy lifestyle," says Cassis, her PhD mentor.
See all of the research under way at the UK Superfund Research Center by visiting their site: www.uky.edu/superfund.