Project Leaders/Pilot and Seed Grant Recipients

Current Research Project Leaders (RPL)

Tomasz Bednarski

Tomasz Bednarski

Assistant Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Project: "The role of LPCAT3 in pathogenesis of diabetic cardiomyopathy" 

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally. Diabetic cardiomyopathy (DC) is characterized by defective cardiac function in patients with diabetes. Untreated, this condition increases the chance of heart failure 2.4-fold in men and 5.1-fold in women compared to healthy individuals. Despite the increased number of cases in the past several decades, the underlying molecular mechanisms of DC pathogenesis remain poorly understood, thereby preventing the development of effective diagnostic tools and pharmacotherapies as well as preventive strategies. The project studies the role of lysophosphatidylcholine acyltransferase 3 (LPCAT3), a major cardiac enzyme that regulates phospholipid metabolism, in heart function, and investigates the effect that LPCAT3 deficiency may play in development of DC. Additionally, the project will investigate the potential of phosphatidylcholine (the LPCAT3 product) supplementation and liver X receptor (regulator of LPCAT3 transcription rate) activation to improve cardiac function. 

Read more about Tomasz Bednarski

Amy Desaulniers

Amy Desaulniers

Assistant Professor 
School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

Project: “Molecular communications between Sertoli cells and extracellular vesicles of milk” 

Total sperm counts in men have declined by 59% since 1971, demonstrating a reproductive health crisis. Furthermore, male infertility predicts an increased risk of morbidity and early mortality. Our long-term goal is to identify early nutritional interventions that promote the fertility and health of men. Interestingly, consumption of mother’s milk enhances testicular growth, development, and subsequent sperm production of offspring. The biological mechanisms that connect nursing with improved testis development remain undefined. However, a candidate regulator of this interaction is the milk exosome. The overall objective for this project is to determine the mechanisms and results of milk exosome and Sertoli cell interactions. The central hypothesis of this project is that milk exosomes deliver regulatory cargo to Sertoli cells via endocytosis to promote proliferation. In Aim 1, we will utilize an in vitro approach and examine the molecular interaction of fluorescently-labeled porcine milk exosomes and/or their cargo with porcine Sertoli cells in the presence or absence of endocytosis inhibitors. In Aim 2, we will assess Sertoli cell proliferation and viability in the presence or absence of milk exosomes. This knowledge is critical because extensive testicular growth and development occurs during early infancy in breastfed infants but only 25% of babies exclusively receive mother’s milk through 6 months of age. Interventions (e.g., exosome supplementation in formula) could improve nutrition for 1.9 million male infants annually leading to population-level fertility and health benefits for men. 

Read more about Amy Desaulniers

Dipti Dev

Dipti Dev

Associate Professor 
Child, Youth & Family Studies

Project: “Feasibility of an Assessment and Feedback Tool to Improve Dietary Intake in Childcare” 

National childhood obesity prevention interventions have focused on improving children’s dietary intake in childcare, but challenges in accurately measuring children’s dietary intake and providing feedback to caregivers undermine the effectiveness of these interventions. In response, we have developed a multilevel (parent, teacher, child) technology titled the SensiTray, a child dietary intake assessment and caregiver (parent and teacher) feedback method designed for the childcare setting.

Aim 1. Determine the validity of SensiTray in childcare.

Aim 2. Refine and optimize the SensiTray based on focus group feedback.

Aim 3. Determine the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary effects of SensiTray on caregiver knowledge, practices, and child dietary intake.

Read more about Dipti Dev

Sunil Sukumaran

Sunil Sukumaran

Assistant Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Project: “Biased sweet taste signaling pathways in mice and humans” 

The overconsumption of calorie-rich sweet foods and beverages is a major cause of devastating conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Non-caloric sweeteners (NCSs) have long been used to replace sugar-derived calories in foods and beverages to prevent these diseases. However, questions over their health benefits and inferior taste point to a need to identify novel NCSs and other strategies to manipulate sweet taste signaling.

Specific Aim 1: Determine the role of Arrb1 in sweet taste signaling in vivo and ex vivo.

Specific Aim 2: Determine gene expression pattern in human taste papillae and identify human
taste stem cells.

Read more about Sunil Sukumaran

Tatsuyda Yamaha

Tatsuya Yamada

Assistant Professor 

Project: “Mechanisms of Megamitochondria Formation inNASH”  

The focus of this project is on understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of NASH with particular interest in the presence of megamitochondria in some patients. Our previous study, utilizing a preclinical NASH mouse model, reveals that a methionine- and choline-deficient (MCD) diet induces megamitochondria, with methionine deficiency as a potential key factor. The primary hypothesis of this proposed study is that elevated systemic proteolysis, triggered by methionine deficiency, results in amino acid overload in hepatic mitochondria, potentially leading to megamitochondria formation. We aim to determine if skeletal muscle proteolysis increases with methionine deficiency and if elevated hepatic amino acid catabolism drives megamitochondria formation. The ultimate goal is to uncover the metabolic interaction between skeletal muscles and livers, shedding light on the pathogenesis of megamitochondria-associated NASH and paving the way for new therapeutic strategies and targets.

Read more about Tatsuya Yamada

Current Pilot Project Leaders (PPL)

Punita Punita Dhawan
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
University of Nebraska Medical Center
“Role of MASTL in Pancreatic Steatosis and associated diseases”
Rebecca Rebecca Oberley-Deegan
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
University of Nebraska Medical Center
“Understanding the mechanism of obesity-induced radiation damage” (P01/Multiple PI pilot grant)
Edward Edward Deehan
Food Science & Technology
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
“Development of fiber blends that target dysregulated immunometabolism in obesity”