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Concordia grad researcher Kerri Delaney sheds light on obesity and diabetes

STEM SIGHTS: The PhD student studies the connection between metabolic diseases and fat cells
September 4, 2018
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By Kenneth Gibson

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While nutritional scientists know that obesity is largely responsible for developing type 2 diabetes, the way obesity affects the progression of the disease remains unclear.

Kerri Delaney is a second-year PhD student in Concordia’s newly renamed Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology (formerly the Department of Exercise Science). Her research aims to improve our understanding of the relationship between obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Under the supervision of Sylvia Santosa, Delaney takes fat tissue biopsies from different regions of the body in individuals with obesity — who may or may not have type 2 diabetes — and then characterizes them through a series of laboratory protocols.

The main goal of Delaney’s research project is to compare signs of inflammation and immune response — indicated by immune cell presence — between the fat cells of diabetic and non-diabetic individuals. She also analyzes fat-cell size and number within each biopsy region.

We can develop better treatment and prevention programs.

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How does this specific image relate to your research at Concordia? 

This is our flow cytometer — we use it to quantify the number and type of immune cells present in our fat tissue biopsies. After we isolate the immune cells from our biopsies, we stain them with specified fluorescing antibodies that bind to the immune cells.

The flow cytometer analyzes one cell at a time, shining a series of three different colour lasers on each cell. It then provides information on the size and granularity of the cell — seen in the first graph at the bottom — and where on the light spectrum it fluoresces.

By staining our samples with antibodies, we can determine the types and number of immune cells present. This is shown in the second graph — a population of macrophages — and in the third graph with populations of two types of T cells.

What is the hoped-for result of your project?

I hope we are able to better understand how obesity leads to the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Type 2 diabetes is currently one of the fastest growing diseases in Canada.

With an aging population and rising obesity, the number of type 2 diabetes diagnoses is excepted to increase. If we can better understand the physiological changes that promote the development of metabolic diseases in the body, we can develop better treatment and prevention programs.

What are some of the major challenges you face in your research? 

Recruiting is always a challenge. It’s difficult to find people who have time and are willing to participate in research, given our stringent inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Fat tissue has a number of properties, the number one being that fat is hydrophobic, which makes it quite different from other tissues in the body. These properties make processing and analyzing fat challenging.

What are some of the key areas where your work could be applied?

I hope the work my lab has put into developing protocols can eventually be used by the greater immunometabolic community to progress this line of research.

What person, experience or moment in time first inspired you to study this subject and get involved in the field?

While doing my undergrad at the University of Waterloo, Russell Tupling, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology, talked about results that had come out of his lab. He was examining feeding-induced obesity and type 2 diabetes in a murine model.

I just remember being overwhelmed and thought, “Wow, that is so cool!” This led me to do a research apprenticeship in the Lipid Enzyme Discovery Lab and that work encouraged me to pursue research in this field.

How can interested STEM students get involved in this line of research? What advice would you give them?

The hardest thing is how intimidating it can seem from the outside. Students often feel they already have to be experts in their field — that they need to know how to preform protocols or have a project idea.

In reality, all of these things are a part of the learning process that begins once you have a supervisor and are working in a lab.

Do not be too intimidated to take that first step. If you are interested in getting involved with any kind of research, ask to meet with a professor whose work you find interesting. Be prepared to explain what aspects of their work you find exciting and some areas where you would like to grow. Then you can work together to find opportunities for you to develop your research.

If you are interested in obesity-related work, you can join our new Canadian Obesity Network Student Chapter at Concordia. You can find our event postings on Twitter or email us to get on our mailing list or become a part of the committee team!

What do you like best about being at Concordia?

The work you do here and the things you study are not just limited to the bubble that is the university. Concordians are engaged with a greater community that’s connected to this amazing city and the larger world.

Are there any partners, agencies or other funding/support attached to your research?

My research is funded by the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Concordia Individual Seed Funding.


Learn more about Concordia’s Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology.



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