Interview Series - BMI Professor - Meet Dr. Morgan Fullerton

Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2017

Assistant Professor in the Department of BMI, Dr. Morgan Fullerton

Dr. Fullerton started as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology in 2014. His focus is on immunometabolism of lipids, and how the metabolic pathways are deregulated in chronic diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Dr. Morgan Fullerton

Dr. Morgan Fullerton

What is your background?

I think my background can best be described as molecular metabolism. I completed my undergraduate degree in molecular biology and genetics from the University of Guelph (2004). Having taken a pretty intensive molecular lab methods course in my third year, I was keen to start a research thesis project in my fourth year. Unfortunately, as I spoke to more and more professors, I realized my somewhat mediocre GPA (78% was really not that bad… right?), wasn’t the most appealing. This meant speaking to lots of investigators until I finally found the right fit (which is a polite way of saying that I found someone willing to take me on). I began my work in the lab of Dr. Marica Bakovic, whose interests were the molecular regulation of phospholipid metabolism. This experience really shaped where I am today, as after my fourth year, I transitioned right into graduate school (transferring from the MSc to PhD program). Throughout grad school, I was focused on molecular and biochemical aspects of phospholipid metabolism, but this work also took me into the realm of overall lipid metabolism and obesity.

 

Tell us about your research?

The research in my lab is focused on understanding the interplay between metabolism and immunity. We have projects that are focused on understanding how the metabolism (mainly lipid metabolism) of immune cells (mainly macrophages) is regulated in diseases like atherosclerosis and insulin resistance. We are also interested in how other aspects of metabolism become deregulated during chronic metabolic disease (like obesity, diabetes and heart disease). We work mainly with mice as a model system, because the questions we are asking revolve around genes that we can knockout in a mouse (this ultimately can inform as to the role of the gene/protein- if you take it away).

 

What are some applications of your work?

Our research is geared toward understanding metabolic and immune pathways so that targeted therapies can be developed. I know this is what most biomedical researchers are striving for (which is a good thing), but we are excited to be working with a nanomedicine expert here at uOttawa. By asking can we target known drugs to specific cell types and locations during disease to activate beneficial pathways and does activating these pathways really help, we are inching closer to our overall therapeutic goals. We are hopeful that the work we are doing will be relevant to diseases like atherosclerosis (heart disease), insulin resistance (diabetes) and cancer.

 

What got you interested in Immunometabolism?

It was during my PhD. In my department, the comprehensive (PhD qualifying) exam was an oral defense format. Basically, I needed to choose 4 topics that were tangentially related to my own research, learn about them and answer questions asked by experts in an open format. I was interested in obesity as part of my research, but the immune component was completely new for me at the time. I was amazed by the effect that immune cells could have on metabolic tissue (like liver, muscle and fat). From there, I finished up my PhD and decided to pursue a postdoc in a lab that helped fuel that fire. During my time at McMaster I was fortunate to be able to explore numerous angles and pathways related to immunometabolism and had great opportunities to present my work at international immunometabolism conferences (which opened my eyes to some of the tremendous research being conducted abroad and really got the ideas going).

 

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume?

Interesting might be a misleading word, but here are a few things to which my resume does not allude. I like things organized a certain way (people who have seen the row of Excel mints above my computer know what I’m talking about). I also like Vector cereal (as again, anyone in the department who sees me eating breakfast after my jog in to work will know). I love to rock climb and have been fortunate to climb in places like B.C, California, Spain and Thailand. On a more philosophical note- I love Disney movies. Most cartoons really (The Secret of NIMH is my all-time non-Disney favourite), but Disney in particular. I’ve never felt the need to justify watching cartoons, but now that I have small kids, I am really excited to re-watch everything with them.  Lastly, I can wiggle my ears, play two and-a-half musical instruments and I try never to wear matching socks.

 

 

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