Mechanistic insights into the vascular effects of blueberries

Background

The research in our laboratory is focused on the vascular effects of blueberries with special emphasis on circulating metabolites and the molecular signaling mechanisms involved. Diabetes greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, which accounts for the largest number of deaths among American diabetic patients. High glucose induced vascular inflammation and dysfunction play a major role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis in diabetes. The vascular endothelium is covered with glycocalyx which act as an orchestrator of vascular homeostasis. The structure/function of glycocalyx is compromised in the vessels of diabetic patients, which enhances the sensitivity of the vasculature towards inflammatory stimuli leading to cardiovascular disease. Hence, preservation/restoration of glycocalyx structure may be a novel strategy to ameliorate vascular complications in diabetes. Epidemiological and clinical studies support the vascular effects of anthocyanins - one class of flavonoids widely available in berry fruits. In our study, dietary blueberries ameliorated vascular inflammation/dysfunction in diabetic mice. Further, blueberry metabolites at physiologically relevant concentrations, suppressed high fat and diabetes-induced endothelial inflammation in human aortic endothelial cells (Mol Nutr Food Research 2017). Our current project determines (1) whether dietary blueberry ameliorates vascular complications in diabetes by modulating endothelial glycocalyx, and (2) the role of circulating metabolites in exerting such vascular effects. Understanding and validating the bioactivities of blueberry will provide a solid scientific foundation to recommend blueberries to improve vascular health.

Student Role

The major emphasis on the student's training will have three aspects:

  1. Developing competence in conducting research: The student will be involved in a study that is focused on identifying the role of blueberries and their metabolites on vascular complications in diabetes. This will provide the student with a hands on research experience. Specifically, they will be involved in the following:
    1. Animal study - Measuring blood glucose, blood lipids and blood pressure; assessing vascular inflammation; and measuring inflammatory markers.
    2. Cell culture study - Culturing human aortic endothelial cells, treating the endothelial cells with blueberry metabolites, analyzing endothelial glycocalyx using metabolic radiolabelling, assessing protein and mRNA expressions of biomarkers related to endothelial glycocalyx.
  2. Analyzing Data: The student will assist in analyzing data and quantifying results using SPSS software (specifically t- test and ANOVA).
  3. Developing additional skills in writing scientific abstracts/manuscripts, and presenting the research data at the lab meeting, seminars in other departments and at national scientific meetings such as Experimental Biology.

Outcomes

Plant nutrients is an exciting and active field of study. Because many students are interested in nutrition and how scientists develop and study questions around nutrition, our lab is a great place to explore questions of broad interest. This carefully designed research training plan will enhance the student's skills as an emerging scientist. During this training, the student will develop skills in research techniques, writing scientific abstracts/manuscripts, and presenting research data in conferences. This will serve as a foundation for his/her career.

Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham
Assistant Professor

Nutrition & Integrative Physiology
College of Health

I believe one of the best equalities as a mentor is to create an environment that motivates the mentee to learn and provides a place where the mentee can immerse themselves in the research project. The environment should also build confidence in the mentee so that they can better express themselves regardless of their level of mastery. I believe enthusiasm and constant encouragement will create such an environment. My central goal is to empower the mentee in their education by providing exciting research opportunities. In my research, I aim to evoke excitement of discovery and achievement. I devote the necessary time to training and directing individual members of the laboratory. I have no teaching obligation in summer and I am free to devote 100% effort for research projects and mentoring in summer. I interact with the individual on a daily basis to review data, address research questions, and design future experiments. This is complemented with a weekly two-hour interdepartmental lab meeting, where a student makes a formal presentation of his/her current or proposed work, which fosters critical thinking and interaction between lab members and develops their communication skills.