Diabetes Internship Funds Minority Undergraduate Student Research

Published January 24, 2012

Two students have received Minority Undergraduate Internship Awards from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to investigate the cardiovascular complications that accompany diabetes in the aging population.

Senior Adolfo Fernandez and junior Katrinne Anne D. Mariano, both pharmacology and toxicology majors from Queens, New York, will each receive $1,500. They will conduct their research with Ji Li, PhD, in whose lab they have worked since August 2011.

Research Links Glucose Metabolism to Heart Disease

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Li’s team has shown that the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) enzyme plays a significant role in regulating muscle glucose transport and alleviating cardiac dysfunction induced by ischemia—loss of blood flow to the heart muscle. Because AMPK’s activity decreases with age, heart cells may become less able to activate this defensive metabolic cascade over time.

Fernandez and Mariano will explore further the relationship between glucose metabolism and the heart’s ability to recover from stress. They will investigate whether AMPK’s decreased activity leads to impaired glucose metabolism in aging hearts and how this affects patients’ susceptibility to myocardial injury.

Diabetes contributes significantly to heart disease in the elderly, the focus of research in Li’s lab. Fernandez’ and Mariano’s project may uncover compounds to augment AMPK’s efficacy, offering protection against the cardiovascular complications associated with diabetes and helping aged individuals with these conditions live longer.

Internships Promote Student Opportunities

The ADA’s Minority Undergraduate Internship Award supports students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in diabetes research while they gain experience working with established diabetes investigators. Li was able to secure this award for these students because he currently receives research funding from the ADA.

Fernandez is the first member of his family to attend college. Although he was born and raised in the U.S., English is not his first language.

Mariano, who is the first member of her family to attend college in the US, was previously awarded a Provost’s Scholarship and a Champagnat Service Award.