Biology of health and disease

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

Research focus

The overarching aim of research in this domain is to characterise and understand the biological mechanisms by which exercise and nutrition impact health. Research in this domain includes healthy and clinical populations across the lifespan – from growth in the womb to ageing.

This domain consists of four research groups:

  • Biology of cardiovascular and metabolic health
  • Regulation of nutrient metabolism
  • Growth, development, and function of organs and tissues.
  • Redox regulation of health and disease

Particular areas of focus include:

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

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

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 Shaun Mason, Dr Lewan Parker, Dr Chris Shaw, Dr Adam Trewin, Dr Kim Way

    This Biology of cardiovascular and metabolic health 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 specialises 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.

    This group covers:

    • 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

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

    The Regulation of nutrient metabolism group focuses on the areas of integrative physiology, metabolic biochemistry and endocrinology in the context of health and disease. Our group is 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 Danielle Hiam, Dr Angus Lindsay, Dr Adam Trewin, Dr Craig Wright

    The Growth, development and function of organs and tissues 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, 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, and muscle regeneration.

    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
    • 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.
  • Redox regulation of health and disease

    Group leader:Dr Lewan Parker

    Group members: Professor Aaron Russell, Associate Professor Michelle Keske, Dr Adam Trewin, Dr Shaun Mason, Dr Paul Della Gatta

    The Redox regulation of health and disease group focuses on exploring how reactive oxygen species, oxidative stress, and antioxidants, contribute to both the development and prevention of cardiometabolic disease including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Specific areas of research include the investigation of how reactive oxygen species and antioxidants regulate insulin action, vascular function, and exercise capacity, and the optimisation of treatment strategies including exercise training and antioxidant prescription to improve cardiometabolic health and prevent oxidative-stress associated disease.

    This group covers:

    • Using modern techniques in redox biology, vascular imaging, exercise physiology, and endocrinology, to explore redox regulation of insulin action, vascular function, and exercise capacity
    • Determining the role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in maintaining health and preventing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
    • Characterising the effects of exercise and nutrient intake on oxidative stress and antioxidant homeostasis
    • Using antioxidant treatment (oral supplementation and intravenous infusion) to explore redox regulation of insulin action, vascular function, and exercise capacity
    • Optimising exercise training and antioxidant treatment programs to improve health and prevent oxidative-stress associated disease
    • Optogenetic control of subcellular redox reactions in cells to identify specific mechanisms of action and to identify new redox-specific targets for therapeutic intervention.