New Assistant Professor in the Department of BMI
Dr. Erin Mulvihill joined the University of Ottawa as an Assistant Professor in our Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology in July 2017. Her research focus on the diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Her laboratory is located at the University of Ottawa Hearth Institute.
What is your background?
I have an undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Immunology and graduated with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. My Ph.D. supervisor was Dr. Murray Huff, an expert in lipoprotein metabolism and atherosclerosis. At the Robarts Research Institute, I was extremely privileged to work with very skilled, engaging and just generally great people who really taught me a lot about the role of lipids and lipoproteins in vascular disease but also, importantly about experimental design and execution. I completed my post-doctoral training with Dr. Daniel Drucker, a clinician scientist whose laboratory has made very significant contributions to the development of two drug classes for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and a new therapy for patients with short bowel syndrome. Here, I was lucky enough to train in a basic science environment filled with very talented people who were all focused on answering research questions relevant to both patient care and drug development. It really gave me perspective on how clinicians and scientists need to work together to pursue the best care strategies for patients.
Tell us about your research?
Over 25% of Canadians live with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) (> 11 million patients) and this expanding population is at ever greater risk for heart disease causing a significant strain on health care resources (costs >16 billion dollars/year in Ontario alone). We treat patients with T2DM to prevent serious cardiovascular complications. Sugar and fat are main sources of energy for the body. When we eat, sugar and fats are absorbed into the blood stream, but these molecules are toxic to the heart and blood vessels if they stay in circulation for long periods of time. Elevated blood sugars can be corrected by inhibiting an enzyme called DPP4. DPP4 acts like a pair of scissors, cleaving proteins and inactivating them. One of the proteins it inactivates is a messenger carrying signals from the human gut to the pancreas that releases insulin and lowers blood glucose levels. We know that DPP4 clips many other peptides and we want to discover which can help when the heart becomes damaged or has to work beyond its capacity. We also want to identify other signals which may be harmful to the heart in patients with high blood sugars and blood fats.
What are some applications of your work?
Preventing the cleavage of proteins by DPP4 has led to the development of three drug classes: (1) DPP4 resistant forms of GLP-2 (teduglutide) have been successful in the treatment of short bowel syndrome, (2) DPP4 resistant GLP-1R agonists and (3) DPP4i have been generated for treatment of T2DM. We think that if we can identify DPP4 signals in the heart they can be utilized for the development of new therapies. Our studies focus specifically on identifying DPP4 peptides in the healthy heart and how they are different in the heart and circulation after a heart attack and or when in heart failure. Using imaging of the heart to measure its function, we can follow mice with heart attack and heart failure after they are treated with our identified DPP4 peptides and validate their potential for further drug development.
What got you interested in diabetes and cardiovascular disease?
We often take for granted our health and quality of life. Throughout my training, I have observed how patients with diabetes and/or cardiac events suffer tremendously with these significant health burdens. I have also seen how difficult it is for physicians to treat some patients when they are lacking the appropriate tools to do so. I truly believe that discoveries in the lab can overtime have a big effect on patient care.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume?
I grew up in Calabogie not far from the University of Ottawa. I love the outdoors, skiing and can often be seen riding my bike to work. I also follow all number of sporting events and both my sons are big Senators fans.