Nature versus nurture? This has been a timeless question in regard to human behavior as well as to healthy and disease states. Are we primarily a product of the genes we inherited from our parents (nature) or of the environment in which we grew up and currently live (nurture)? The answer is that genes and environment both have profound effects on the behavioral and physiological characteristics of individuals. The premise of my research is that by identifying specific genes and specific environmental factors that influence physiological characteristics, and understanding the mechanisms by which they exert their individual and collective effects, we can develop new strategies for preventing and treating diseases.
In order to pursue our research goal, we use Texas Biomed’s unique colonies of pedigreed baboons and laboratory opossums, to which we feed several different challenge diets in order to detect genetic and environmental influences on risk of cardiovascular disease. In both species, we have identified genes that affect levels of good cholesterol (LDL) or bad cholesterol (HDL) in the blood when the animals are fed a high-cholesterol diet. We also have demonstrated in baboons that the high-cholesterol diet causes senescence of the cells that line the arteries, leading to greater risk of atherosclerosis, but that different individuals are differentially susceptible to this detrimental effect of dietary cholesterol. In another project with laboratory opossums, we are investigating how gene expression patterns change in spinal cords as newborn animals lose the remarkable ability that they have at birth to repair severed spinal cords. In addition, we have recently established that opossums can serve as hosts to implanted human cancer tissue, paving the way for research on genetic mechanisms, as well as drugs and other environmental factors, that exert control over the growth and metastasis of various forms of human cancers.
The use of these pedigreed families of baboons and opossums under carefully controlled environmental conditions enables discoveries that could not be made easily, if at all, in research with human subjects. After we dissect the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to physiological processes in healthy and disease states, we will be able to translate the knowledge gained to developing new preventions and treatments for human diseases.
Doctoral Degree: Ph.D. Genetics
Macquarie University Syndey , Australia
Bachelor's Degree B.Sc. Hons.
La Trobe University Melbourne , Australia
Differential expression of intestinal genes in opossums with high and low responses to dietary cholesterol.
Chan, J, Kushwaha, R.S., VandeBerg, J.F., Gluhak-Heinrich, J., and VandeBerg, J.L.
J. Nutr. Metab. Article ID 415075 2010
Molecular pathways mediating differential responses to lipopolysaccharide between human and baboon arterial endothelial cells.
Shi, Q., Cox, L.A., Glenn, J., Tejero, M.E., Hodara, V., VandeBerg, J.L., and Wang, X.L.
Clin. Exper. Pharm. Physiol. 37: 178-184, 2010
PubMed ID: 19650795