Biology of health and disease

Understanding how the biological mechanisms behind exercise and nutrition work, and how they impact on health.

Research focus

We work in healthy and clinical populations across the lifespan to characterise and understand the biological mechanisms behind exercise and nutrition to ask how this impacts on health.

Researchers in this domain work on:

  • Human growth and function
  • Conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, muscle wasting and motor neurone disease.

Our researchers use state of the art facilities to conduct cell culture and rodent model studies, as well as whole-body human studies, for the assessment of cardiovascular, metabolic and endocrine function.

Research projects

Research groups

  • Biology of cardiovascular and metabolic health

    Group members: Professor Glenn Wadley, Dr Andrew Betik, Dr Lee Hamilton, Dr Kirsten Howlett, Dr Gunveen Kaur, Dr Lewan Parker, Dr Chris Shaw, Dr Adam Trewin, Dr Kim Way

    This group focuses on reducing cardiometabolic diseases (obesity, insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) in our community.

    Areas of particular interest include understanding the impact of diet and exercise on large and small blood vessel function, cardiac function, blood pressure, whole body metabolism, blood sugar control and fat metabolism in health and disease. Our group specialise in a range of research techniques including:

    • Nutritional interventions
    • Exercise interventions
    • Contrast ultrasound imaging
    • Echocardiography
    • Tonometry
    • Exercise stress testing
    • Euglycaemic-hyperinsulinaemic clamp
    • Oral glucose tolerance test
    • Mixed meal challenge
    • Indirect calorimetry.

    The group uses a variety of clinical and laboratory models to understand how to maintain cardiovascular and metabolic health, and to discover innovative ways to prevent and treat cardiometabolic diseases.

    Some of the research underway includes:

    • Investigating the impact of nutrient intake and exercise on heart function, vascular health and metabolism
    • Optimising nutrition and exercise interventions for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases
    • Identifying the molecular and physiological mechanisms that regulate cardiovascular function and metabolism.
    • Regulation of nutrient metabolism
    • Growth, development, and function of organs and tissues.
  • Regulation of nutrient metabolism

    Group members: Associate Professor Glenn Wadley, Dr Lee Hamilton, Dr Kirsten Howlett, Dr Greg Kowalski, Dr Chris Shaw, Dr Adam Trewin

    This group focuses on the areas of integrative physiology, metabolic biochemistry and endocrinology in the context of health and disease. We are interested in understanding how glucose, fat and amino acid metabolism are regulated and integrated at the whole-body, organ and cellular level.

    An area of particular interest is examining the regulation of liver, adipose, and skeletal muscle metabolism by the pancreatic hormones insulin and glucagon. Given the central role of mitochondria in all facets of cellular metabolism, we also have a strong interest in mitochondrial biology. The group employs a range of experimental approaches in humans, rodents and cell systems to understand metabolic regulation in response to challenges such as exercise and dietary manipulation. We employ a broad range of laboratory based techniques including molecular biology approaches to manipulate gene expression, and microscopy-based imaging techniques.

    Our group also specialises in utilising our in-house mass spectrometry based platforms (GC-MS and HPLC-MS) to perform quantitative-targeted metabolomics and biochemical flux analysis using stable isotope tracers. Our group’s research is particularly relevant for conditions with metabolic underpinnings such as insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver and cardiovascular disease.

    This group covers:

    • Examining the regulation of glucose, fat and amino acid metabolism
    • Investigating how the pancreatic hormones (insulin and glucagon) influence liver, muscle and adipose tissue metabolism
    • Studying how phospholipids regulate mitochondrial biology
    • Examining how dietary challenges and exercise influence metabolism, insulin action and mitochondrial function
    • Utilising mass spectrometry approaches to conduct targeted metabolomics and biochemical flux analysis using stable isotope tracers.
  • Growth, development and function of organs and tissues

    Group members: Professor Aaron Russell, Professor Glenn Wadley, Dr Paul Della Gatta, Dr Lee Hamilton, Dr Angus Lindsay, Dr Craig Wright

    This group focuses on investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying the development and function of human organs and tissues in health and disease. Members of our group have specific expertise in skeletal, smooth and cardiac muscle biochemistry and physiology. Our group possesses a wide range of technical expertise spanning in vitro (tissue culture), rodent, and human models. There is a focus on investigating human and rodent models of skeletal muscle wasting, including ageing, fasting, and motor neurone disease and muscle dystrophy.  Tissue samples from patient populations are analysed to evaluate the potential clinical relevance of our work.

    Regulatory approaches in cell and rodent models of human disease include the use of locked nucleic acid inhibitors and adeno-associated viruses. Isolated muscle and whole body muscle contraction (exercise) is also performed. Members of our group have experience in conducting human exercise trials involving muscle tissue collection (muscle biopsies) and radiolabelled isotope tracer infusion. Specific areas of focus include muscle protein metabolism, non-coding RNA-mediated gene regulation, mitochondrial biogenesis, muscle regeneration and creatine metabolism and supplementation during pregnancy.

    This group covers:

    • Investigating the impact of physical activity and nutrition on the growth, development and function of human organs and tissues over the lifespan
    • Identifying novel molecular targets for skeletal muscle growth, development and function in health and disease
    • Understanding the regulation and functional importance of uterine creatine metabolism and establishing the efficacy and safety of maternal creatine supplementation
    • Investigating the role of the immune system in the regulation of skeletal muscle growth and regeneration
    • Investigating the interaction between neural pathways and skeletal muscle and how this affects muscle function.