Abel Lab undergraduate, Ben Kirk receives invitation to present poster abstract at NCUR 2019 at Kennesaw State University

Abel Laboratory undergraduate student, Ben Kirk received an invitation to present his Poster abstract at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research 2019 at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Ben Kirk is an undergraduate research assistant at the Department of Internal Medicine in Dr. Abel’s Laboratory. Under the co-mentorship of Dr. E. Dale Abel and Dr. Antentor Othrell Hinton Jr., he is studying how OPA-1 loss reduces muscle mass by the mechanism of autophagy. His submission “OPA-1 deficiency promotes muscle atrophy through upregulating ER-Mito contacts and Autophagy” discusses how Patients with Type 2 Diabetes can develop contracture of tissue and limbs because of soft tissue thickening in these areas and this inactivity induces signaling pathways that regulate the process of muscle loss. This leads to muscle wasting and is referred to as muscle atrophy. Muscle atrophy in skeletal muscle occurs when protein degradation rates surpass protein synthesis rates. Moreover, one important pathway that regulates autophagosome structural changes is the formation of a mitochondrial-ER contact site complex-ATG5/ATG12. Notably, Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi, the 2016 laureate in Physiology discovered the mechanisms for autophagy. Recently, autophagic machinery is involved in the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) disease. On the other hand, enhanced autophagy acts as an important protective mechanism against oxidative stress on insulin-target tissues such as the skeletal muscle. In the laboratory, we study a process called autophagy, which is a regulated mechanism of cellular breakdown. Interestingly, we study autophagy and its role in diabetic cardiacmyopathy. In our laboratory, we have also published a paper by Dr. Pereira et al. where she suggests that loss of OPA-1 leads to muscle atrophy. My project explores how OPA-1 ablation leads to mitochondrial stress and eventually muscle atrophy. Thus, we are trying to understand the mechanism of action that leads to muscle wasting through autophagy.

Kirk is pursuing a degree in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Swahili. He is an Old Gold Academic Scholar and serves as a volunteer in the PICU at the University of Iowa Hospitals and as a leader for The Salt Company. The summer after his freshman year he completed an overseas medical fellowship in rural Haiti. He was inspired to be a cardiothoracic surgeon through his ongoing battle with heart disease and his love for scientific discovery.

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