Jelena Kolic is a 2016-2017 Banting Postdoctoral Fellow who works in the Diabetes Research Group with Dr. Jim Johnson. Her research seeks to understand the variations and molecular mechanisms associated with the development of Type 2 diabetes. One of the goals of her research is the implementation of personalized preventative and/or therapeutic intervention strategies.
Despite numerous treatment options, many obese and/or Type 2 diabetic (T2D) patients have a decreased quality of life. While we understand some principles associated with the pathogenesis of T2D and obesity, the precise molecular mechanisms remain unclear. However, defects in insulin secreting beta-cells are critical to the pathogenesis of both conditions. In early disease-state this beta-cell dysfunction presents in the form of insulin over-secretion (hyperinsulinemia). Interestingly, obesity (and its complications) can be prevented in mice genetically protected from hyperinsulinemia, suggesting that a reduction in fasting insulin could be beneficial. While glucose is the main driver of insulin secretion, other macronutrients can also stimulate insulin release. However, insulin secretion in response to these macronutrients is different between individuals. This could explain why ‘low-carb’ diets which aim to keep insulin levels low are only effective in some individuals. Thus, the goal of our study is to understand these variations and identify pathways that determine the sensitivity of individuals to various macronutrients. We will characterize human islet functional responses to macronutrients by measuring insulin secretion and islet survival. Physiological responses will be compared to the unique genetic profile of the donor. Multi-scale modeling will be used to predict obesity and T2D risk. We will also use glucose-responsive insulin-producing cells (generated from human embryonic stem cells) as a controlled human beta-cell model system to identify the molecular mechanisms influencing insulin secretion. By understanding the interactions between our genes and islet response to macronutrients, personalized preventative and/or therapeutic intervention strategies can be implemented.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
When I began my search for a postdoctoral fellowship position I considered a number of opportunities. I primarily chose UBC because of its reputation as a top Canadian research university. I was also very excited to have the opportunity to work with members of the Diabetes Research Group at UBC. In addition to this, my partner and I were thrilled to move to the beautiful city of Vancouver.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
I would advise new postdoctoral fellows to maintain an adequate work-life balance. There are so many amazing things to see and do in Vancouver!
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
I am so lucky to work with some amazing people! The most enjoyable aspect of my postdoctoral fellowship so far is interacting with my colleagues on both a personal and scientific level.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
I am honoured to receive this award. The Banting Fellowship will allow me to continue pursuing my research aspirations.