Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil

Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil

Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil

Cardiovascular, Molly Appeal

Cellular garbage and chronic disease:
Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil learns how metabolic disorders affect health and heart

Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick (DMNB) researcher Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil is learning how problems with our cellular waste-disposal mechanisms lead to disease.

"Each one of our cells contains a tiny garbage can known as a lysosome, where the leftovers of metabolism are stored," says Dr Pulinilkunnil, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. "Ideally, the garbage can is never left to overflow, and the waste is regularly taken away for disposal and recycling, but this isn't what happens in metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes."

Dr. Pulinilkunnil studies what happens inside the cells of the heart when compromised metabolism -- due, for example, to poor diet, lack of exercise and stress -- interferes with cells' ability to clear out the waste and rejuvenate.

"You end up with excess fat, glucose or protein by-products in the lysosomes, which interferes withnormal cellular processes," he explains. "Eventually, the lysosomes fail completely."

Failure of cellular waste-disposal and recycling mechanisims can have disastrous consequences. Dr. Pulinilkunnil is studying how it leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even to cancer.

"During obesity and diabetes, heart cells become progressively weaker and die, leading to heart failure," he says. "In contrast, cancer cells use the cellular garbage to fuel their growth."

Dr. Pulinilkunnil and his team are excited That Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation's 2018-19 Fall Molly Appeal is funding advanced cell-analysis equipment that allows them to learn more about the cellular underpinnings of extremely common and debilitating diseases, and how these problems can be corrected to achieve a state of health.

He and his team also want to learn how chemotherapy affects the heart. "In some patients, chemotherapy is very toxic to the heart and can lead to heart muscle dysfunction, so they might not be able to complete or even start chemo," Dr. Pulinilkunnil says. "We are learning what happens in the heart cells when they're exposed to chemotherapy agents, to identify potential ways to protect the heart so patients can benefit from chemo."

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