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He grew up in Alameda, Sask., and soon found work on oil rigs. By the time he was in his early twenties, he knew it was time for a change.
"I realized that winters are just too cold to continue doing that," said Widenmaier. "I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life, but I was interested in biology and human physiology."
In his third year as a science major at the University of Regina, he became fascinated by a lab experiment examining how neurotransmitters control heart rates. He then moved west, to graduate studies at the University of British Columbia, studying endocrinology and its role in diabetes.
"I really like the elegance of the feedback circuits," said Widenmaier, who went on to land a post-doctoral position with Dr. Gökhan Hotamisligil at Harvard University's School of Public Health. "I like logic and I like how things talk to each other to make sure everything’s balanced and working properly."
As he discovered the emerging field of immunometabolism, Widenmaier began to see obesity-related communication breakdowns between the gut and the immune system.
“Those communications to the immune system and the metabolic systems are dysfunctional and contribute to a lot of the diseases that we see linked to obesity," said Widenmaier.
Cholesterol is now the focus of much of his work at the University of Saskatchewan as an assistant professor in the College of Medicine's department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology.
"There's this transcription factor that sits in a part of the cell and it recognizes when cholesterol's too high," he said. "It changes where it goes in the cell and it regulates a response by the cell to try to prevent the cholesterol from causing damage and stress."
Widenmaier has now landed a number of awards, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation's National New Investigator Award in 2020/21. Widenmaier was also named that year's McDonald Scholar.
In this episode, hear why his work has implications for patients with heart and stroke disease, along with obesity, liver disease, degenerative brain conditions, as well as various forms of cancer.
"The issue with cholesterol is that we absolutely need it, but we also need it to be exactly the right amount," said Widenmaier. "There's lots of times where that capacity gets stretched, especially under conditions of obesity."
"What are those natural adaptive systems? If we can find out what they are, can we make them work better?”