Dr. Petra Kienesberger

Dr. Petra Kienesberger

Dr. Petra Kienesberger

Cardiovascular

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 excess fat accumulates in and around the heart and throughout the body.

"Fat tissue is metabolically active and produces signals that influence the metabolism and function of our cells and organs," explains Dr. Kienesberger, an assistant professor in Dalhousie Medical School's Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick (DMNB). "When too much fat accumulates, or the quality of the fat changes,the fat tissue becomes inflamed and produces harmful signals that weaken heart-muscle cells. This is a big part of the reason obesity and diabetes are so linked to heart disease and heart failure."

Dr. Kienesberger is particularly interested in adipokines, pro-inflammatory signals produced in fat tissues. She and collaborators in Vari - Greece, Lexington - US, and Pittsburgh - US, have studied a new adipokine, which is found in higher levels in the presence of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes—all key risk factors for heart failure. Dr. Kienesberger and her team have shown that this adipokine contributes to obesity-induced heart muscle weakening in mice.

"The DMRF Molly Appeal-funded Maritime-wide biobank will be essential for us to study this adipokine and its celular function in tissue samples from cardiac surgery patients and translate our findings to the clinic," notes Dr. Kienesberger. "This pathway could be targeted to break the cycle of inflammation and heart-cell dysfunction that leads to heart disease and failure."

Dr. Kienesberger and her collaborators, including Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil, Dr, Jean Francois Legare, Dr. Keith BruntDr. Ansar Hassan, Dr. Susan Howlett and Dr. Sohrab Lutchmedial, want to address the many factors that lead to heart disease, heart failure and frailty over the course of many years. "The earlier in life people assess their risk, the better, so they can take steps to reduce their risk before it's too late."

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