My lab studies the biology of the hormone, leptin. Fat makes leptin in proportion to the amount of fat energy it has stored. Leptin acts in the brain to signal the sufficiency of energy stores to suppress appetite, control blood sugar levels, and permit energy-requiring body functions, like reproduction and growth. We’re working to understand the neural circuits by which leptin does these things.
First, because I enjoy figuring out puzzles, and our research is essentially a very big, very complicated puzzle. Second, it’s important to understand how leptin works in order to decipher the neural pathways that underlie overeating, obesity, diabetes, and related disorders that link body fat to reproduction (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS).
By understanding the mechanisms by which leptin controls appetite and its other various effects, we hope to identify systems that represent reasonable drug targets for the control of appetite and thus for the treatment of obesity, type 2 diabetes, or PCOS.
Outside of my research, I spend time in two ways. The first is my family – my wife (who is also a U-M faculty member) and two boys (ages 8 and 11). The second is rowing. I row 5-6 days a week with a great bunch of guys and gals at the Ann Arbor Rowing Club.
When I was getting ready to start my independent lab about 15 years ago, the research director of the institution told me that I needed to start working on something different from what I’d been doing before. It was a hard thing to do, since it meant getting way out of my comfort zone, but it helped with establishing my independence, and taught me not to be afraid of doing new things.
My PhD advisor, Morris White (Harvard Medical School), probably had the greatest influence on me as a scientist. In addition to setting a great example for how to conduct really exciting research, he helped me to see that research can be an exciting, creative process. It’s not just about “turning the crank” on the scientific machine.
I recently started a book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time: On Food and Cooking. It’s an enormous book that reviews the biology, chemistry and physics of food, and how we change it during preparation and cooking. As a scientist who enjoys cooking, I am finding it fascinating!
When I was younger, I crewed on small sailboats and sailed to a variety of places. In addition to having a great ocean sail to Bermuda, I was fortunate to visit a number of out of the way places that few people ever get to see, including the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. Sailing around icebergs was quite a thrill.