Monday, October 5, 2015

Colloquium Series: Dr. Karen Jonscher

Please join us this Friday, Oct. 9th at 3PM in NC 3405 for the next installment in our colloquium series with UCD Physics alum Dr. Karen Jonscher! 

Spaceflight and Lipotoxicity – can our livers withstand a trip to Mars?


The spaceflight environment impacts many physiological systems, resulting in potentially serious consequences, particularly for longer duration space exploration. As use of the International Space Station is increased, and with the rise of commercial spaceflight and tourism, the systemic effects of microgravity must be carefully investigated to protect human health.  Although altered muscle and bone metabolism following spaceflight have been the subject of intense study, little is known about how the functioning of other major metabolic organs, such as liver, is transformed by spaceflight.  Our analysis of liver acquired from mice flown aboard STS-135, the final mission of the US Space Shuttle Atlantis, reveals novel changes in expression of liver genes and metabolites suggesting the potential for activation of cellular processes that may be early precursors of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  Although the 13-day flight duration is too short for frank fibrosis to develop, we observed retinol loss plus changes in markers of extra-cellular matrix remodeling, raising the concern that much longer duration exposure to the space environment may result in progressive liver damage.  Our provocative results point toward risks astronauts may face on long-duration space exploration, such as a mission to Mars.


Dr. Karen Jonscher is a Denver native and began her scientific career in the UC Denver Physics Department.  Interested in spaceflight, she transferred to Boulder and majored in Engineering Physics with the idea of going to graduate school in Aeronautical Engineering.  However, her love of physics won out and following the advice of her mentors, she followed the pioneers west to California and pursued a PhD in Applied Physics at CalTech.  There she was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Leroy Hood, who was seeking to build an interdisciplinary department of Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Washington.  She joined his group and moved to Seattle where she pioneered cutting edge mass spectrometry hardware and software that became standard proteomics platforms.  Karen realized there was a gap between the mass spectrometrists who understood how to analyze samples and the biologists who understood the problems. During her postdoctoral studies at National Jewish Health and in Boulder, and subsequently as a faculty member at the Anschutz Medical Campus, she worked to fill that gap by directing a proteomics core facility, engaging in many productive collaborations with a variety of researchers, including a group interested in the effects of spaceflight on liver health.  Recently, Dr. Jonscher transitioned into biomedical research, where she is using multi-‘omics techniques to understand the role of maternal exposure to fat on offspring metabolic health, and is continuing her spaceflight-related work.

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