“That’s another reason why I wanted to come here, to collaborate with these neuroscientists and maybe combine our perspectives and our experimental experience,” Widenmaier said. “Maybe we can address some of the things in society that are related to mental health.”
Widenmaier’s research primarily focuses on metabolic diseases, including diabetes, dyslipidemias and immunometabolism.
Mental health has strong ties to metabolic health issues. For example, medication prescribed to patients to address mental health issues can have a negative effect on metabolic health, creating new problems for the patient, including the possibility of obesity or type 2 diabetes.
“It’s worth opening a whole new subfield into that avenue, perhaps better approaches to treating that condition, that won’t leave you thinking about the metabolic consequences,” Widenmaier said.
Widenmaier joined the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology as an assistant professor at the College of Medicine on Canada Day 2018. The fact that the position was closer to home was a bonus. His laboratory is currently located in the Cardiopulmonary Research Cluster located in the Health Sciences Building.
Widenmaier started his career in metabolic research at the University of British Columbia, with a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University before coming to Saskatoon.
With obesity becoming a recognized global health problem, there is a need for research that addresses how to treat metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 and older, were overweight. Of these, more than 650 million people were obese. Type 2 diabetes affects more than 400 million adults.
At USask, Widenmaier and his team are investigating how transcription factors – which play a central role in regulating cellular behavior – help or maintain a metabolic balance in the key cells that control metabolic health, especially when faced with chronic over-nutrition such as the case of obesity.
The team is also focusing on cholesterol, a nutrient that has strong ties to metabolic disorders such as heart failure and stroke, and how cells individually control cholesterol levels, which is a crucial part of normal health.
“I had a good feeling when I came in for the interview that the College (of Medicine) was trying to do something different and new, and grow in its value of research,” Widenmaier said. “That was appealing to me, to be at a university that’s trying to grow in a meaningful way — to try and be part of the change as it happens over time.”