Environment and Metabolism

Understanding the Gateway to Poor Health


The mission of this theme is to nucleate research activities focused on environmental exposures that beneficially and adversely impact metabolism and mitochondrial function. Dysregulated metabolism is widely viewed as the gateway to poor overall health, especially for underserved populations, and research into the phenotypic characteristics of metabolic syndrome and its downstream diseases will address the unique environmental exposure susceptibilities faced by those with impaired metabolic health. Mitochondria are the main sources of cellular energy and play essential roles in normal cellular homeostasis. Not surprisingly, disruption of mitochondrial function results in many conditions including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease, Down Syndrome, diabetes, infertility, inflammatory diseases, and cancer. More recently, studies have shown that mitochondrial dysfunction can result from environmental exposures.

Research Foci:

  • TiCER scientists investigate links between the environment and metabolic syndrome. Several agents under study are suspected or known to contribute to the pathophysiological characteristics of metabolic syndrome:
    • obesity
    • elevated triglyceride levels
    • low HDL cholesterol levels
    • high blood pressure
    • high fasting glucose
  • Factors being studied by TiCER scientists include:
    • diet
    • endocrine disruptors
    • physical activity
    • behavior
    • the microbiota
  • TiCER scientists also investigate the role of environmental factors in specific diseases impacted by metabolic syndrome, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Research Theme Leader

Dr. Phillip West is an assistant professor at A&M’s School of Medicine, whose research program is investigating the mechanisms used by mitochondria to regulate innate immunity and inflammatory processes that influence human health and disease. Dr. West was featured as a keynote speaker at the 2023 Society of Toxicology meeting continuing education course “Beyond the Powerhouse: Investigating Mechanisms of Mitotoxicity”.