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MetNet Symposium on Nutrient Sensing to Feature UMass Chan Researchers

Date Posted: Monday, September 26, 2022
By: David Guertin, PhD

On Thursday, November 10th the MetNet will feature four UMass Chan researchers during a Nutrient Sensing Symposium.  One goal of these events is to provide a platform for those who are new to UMass Chan or metabolism research to share their exciting discoveries and future directions.  Mark your calendar for our Immunometabolism Symposium scheduled for January 26th

Nutrient sensing can be loosely defined as the ability of a biological system to sense and respond to fluctuations in environmental nutrient levels.  Life cannot happen without nutrient sensing because the availability of nutrients can change quite dramatically, such as during fasting and feeding, with circadian cycles, and with different diets and exercise patterns.  Nutrient sensing pathways (proteins that monitor cellular nutrient levels) are also hot spots for oncogenic events and are markedly impaired in chronic metabolic diseases such as obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and type 2 diabetes (T2D).  In fact, nearly every cellular function requires nutrient sensing because nutrients provide energy, building blocks and critical regulatory signals.

The Nutrient Sensing Symposium will take us on a journey through mechanisms of nutrient sensing beginning at the level of individual proteins (Dr. Kuang Shen), through organelle nutrient sensing (Dr. Jessica Spinelli) to cellular nutrient sensing (Dr. Read Pukilla-Worley) and concluding with organism level sensing (Dr. Jin Zhang). Each will speak for 20 minutes. 

Kuang Shen, PhD

Assistant Professor in Molecular Medicine (2019)

Kuang studies the major intracellular signaling pathway that controls cell growth in response to amino acids, the mTORC1 pathway.  His current work focuses on a molecular switch called the Rag-GTPase that signals mTORC1 activity in response to amino acid levels.  Kuang uses a variety of biophysical, biochemical, structural (CryoEM), and single molecule fluorescence imaging techniques to understand the mechanics of this unique GTPases , which controls one of the most important signaling pathways in human disease.   

Jessica Spinelli, PhD

Assistant Professor in Molecular Medicine (2022)

Jessica studies how mitochondria reprogram their metabolism to cope with changes in nutrient and oxygen availability focusing on the metabolic flexibility of the electron transport chain.  She is also interested in how human diseases like cancer, diabetes, and neurodegeneration manifest in different tissues at the metabolic level, and she is searching for new mammalian metabolites with important signaling and metabolic functions.  Jessica's lab leverages biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and mass spectrometry to tackle these questions. 

Read Pukkila-Worley, MD

Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology

Read studies the genetics of immune activation and regulation in intestinal epithelial cells.  Building on the principle that evolution shaped host-pathogen relationships, His lab uses the powerful genetic model organism C. elegans, a soil nematode that consumes microorganisms for food, to define conserved mechanisms of innate immune activation and regulation.  Read's interest in metabolism grew from his recent discovery that cholesterol deficiency primes immune pathway activation.  His laboratory also characterized a non-canonical pattern recognition system that identifies virulent bacteria in C. elegans.

Jin Zhang, PhD

Assistant Professor in Molecular Medicine (2022)

Jin is interested in how the body's sensory systems regulate physiology focusing on taste sensing as a model.  For example, food tastes differently if we are hungry, and taste sensing can send signals throughout the nervous system and body that can shape physiology and behavior.  Understanding how the nervous system integrates information to control mammalian behavior could unlock critical details about how organism nutrient sensing affects our metabolic health and disease susceptibility.  Jin uses mammalian genetics and sophisticated behavioral and imaging techniques to address these questions. 

The Nutrient Sensing Symposium will be held at 3:00 PM on November 10th in the Biotech II seminar room and via Zoom.