Dr. Petra Kienesberger
Toxic fat overload: Dr. Petra Kienesberger sheds light on fat-driven weakening of heart-muscle cells
Lipid scientist Dr. Petra Kienesberger is investigating what happens to heart-muscle cells when fat accumulates to excess levels in and around the heart and throughout the rest of the body.
"Fat tissue is metabolically active and produces signals that influence our overall metabolism and the function of our cells and organs," explains Dr. Kienesberger, an assistant professor in Dalhousie Medical School's Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at Dalhousie Medical School - Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick (DMNB). "When too much fat accumulates, the fat tissue becomes inflamed and produce harmful signals that weaken heart-muscle cells. This is a big part of the reason obesity is so linked to heart disease."
Dr. Kienesberger is particularly interested in adipokines, pro-inflammatory signals produced in fat tissues. She and collaborators in Pittsburgh have identified a new adipokine, which is found in higher levels in the presence of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes—all key risk factors for heart disease.
"We're studying this adipokine further in tissue samples collected from patients taking part in a Maritime-wide study of obesity's influence on heart disease and the outcomes of cardiac surgery," notes Dr. Kienesberger. "This pathway could be targeted to break the cycle of inflammation and heart-cell dysfunction that leads to heart disease and frailty."
Dr. Kienesberger and her collaborators, including Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil, Dr. Keith Brunt, Dr. Ansar Hassan and Dr. Sohrab Lutchmedial, want to address the many factors that lead to obesity, heart disease and frailty over the course of many years. "People often do not realize how much at risk they may be," she says, "There's more to it than body weight—there are genetic factors, lifestyle factors, molecular factors we are just beginning to understand. The earlier in life people get bloodwork to assess their risk, the better, so they can take steps to reduce their risk before it's too late."