Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil

Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil

Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil

Cardiovascular, Molly Appeal

Cellular garbage and heart disease:
Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil learns how metabolic disorders contribute to heart failureaffect health and heart

Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick (DMNB) researcher Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil is learning how metabolic problems that happen in obesity and diabetes lead to heart failure.

"These metabolic problems include inflammation, changes in how fats are broken down and used by the body, blood vessel disease, and the accumulation of waste products inside our cells," says Dr Pulinilkunnil, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. "All of these affect the heart."

As Dr. Pulinilkunnil explains, each of our cells contains a tiny garbage can called a lysosome, where the leftovers of metablolism are stored.

"Ideally, the garbage can is never left to overflow, and the waste is regularly taken away for disposal and recycling," he says. "But when the metabolism isn't working properly, you end up with excess fat, glucose or protein by-products in the lysosomes, which interferes with normal cellular processes. Eventually, the lysosomes fail."

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

"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 2019 Spring Molly Appeal is supporting the biobank at DMNB. This allows heart tissue samples and a wealth of data about a person's heart disease, treatment and outcomes to be stored. Dalhousie medical researchers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia can access tissues and data to shed light on causes, mechanisms, treatments and portential cures of heart failure.

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