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Student research project

Supervisor(s): Dr Brian Drew

Project summary

Mitochondria are cellular organelles known as the 'power plant' of the cell, due to their ability to convert fat and sugar to energy. In recent years, it has become clear that low activity of mitochondria and defects in energy metabolism are characteristic features of many chronic illnesses including obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. However, the underlying reasons for this association and the tissues in which this occurs are still poorly understood.

Over the years there have been various lines of evidence in humans and rodents suggesting that mitochondrial dysfunction in skeletal muscle may be causal for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, however this has yet to be definitively proven. In this project, we aim to determine whether this is indeed the case. To undertake these studies we have generated several unique preclinical animal models in which we can genetically disrupt mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle at a precise age in the animal. This will allow us to induce very specific defects in mitochondrial function in muscle at a precise time (young/old or before/after eating a high calorie diet), and then subsequently determine whether this causes or worsens diabetes, and in what time frame.

These results will be informative to the biological understanding of diabetes risk, but also to the identification of potential targets that might be exploited for therapeutic intervention.

This project is suitable for an Honours student.

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With the rising number of Australians affected by diabetes, heart disease and stroke, the need for research is more critical than ever.

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