Faculty members research areas

Biochemistry Faculty Members Research areas

Mark Berry

Dr. Berry works on a particular family of G protein-coupled receptors, how they are involved in controlling cellular activity, and the transport processes that support receptor function. The receptors have been implicated in central nervous system function, immune cell function, regulation of insulin secretion, breast cancer prognosis, and environmental odour detection, among other activities. As such the receptors are of interest in diseases such as schizophrenia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, breast cancer as well as in organism response to environmental cues. Dr. Berry is willing to supervise any of the thesis style options, although some projects may involve/require co-supervision.

Robert Bertolo

Dr. Bertolo studies amino acid and methyl metabolism in neonates, using the surgically altered pig as a model. He has a particular interest in parenteral nutrition composition and how it can be modified to prevent programming of risk for chronic diseases in later life. Dr. Bertolo also studies amino acid requirements for non-protein compounds such as creatine and phosphatidylcholine in neonates and how competition for these amino acids can limit growth. Dr. Bertolo will supervise honours projects using wet lab, systematic/scoping review with or without meta analysis, and narrative review / grant proposal.

Valerie Booth

Dr. Booth’s broad area of research is biophysics.  Her research topics include antimicrobial peptides and the effects of macromolecular crowding on intrinsically disordered protein behavior.   Her tools include NMR, molecular dynamics simulation, systematic reviews, calorimetry, and dynamic light scattering.   It’s possible to do any of the thesis styles (wet lab, computational, systematic review, etc.) in Dr. Booth’s lab.

Janet Brunton

Dr. Brunton's research addresses questions related to amino acid nutrition of newborn and premature infants, using a neonatal piglet model. When "normal" feeding is not possible because of medical consequences related to preterm birth, total parenteral (intravenous) nutrition (TPN) is often necessary to sustain life; but TPN use leads to serious complications including intestinal atrophy, intestinal infections and liver damage.  We study whether altering the nutrient composition of TPN can reduce the development of liver and gut complications.  We also use a model of intestinal atrophy to assess feeding strategies that might reduce infection and inflammation and enhance more rapid gut recovery.  Honours students would work closely with a graduate student who will lead the project.  Dr. Brunton is willing to supervise wet lab projects or library-based research projects including systematic/scoping reviews.

Sukhinder Cheema

Dr. Cheema's research focuses on maternal nutrition (specifically dietary fats), pregnancy outcome, and metabolic regulation of the offspring. The disease states explored are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and brain health. Another project in the lab is to explore the health benefits of marine bioactives in health; there may be an opportunity to work with other investigators under this project. The projects may be laboratory based in a wet lab, or may involve data analysis/interpretation.

Sherri Christian

The work in Dr. Christian’s lab is focused on understanding communication between cells. The first major project is on the secretion of extracellular vesicles (EV) from B lymphocytes. EVs are membrane bound particles derived from inside the cell or pinched off of the plasma membrane. We are interested in how a receptor called CD24 regulates EV production and the role of these EVs in immune cell development. We are also interested in using EVs as biomarkers for early detection of cancer. The second major project focuses on our observation that adipocytes promote changes in breast cancer cells that may increase metastasis of breast cancer. We are investigating the mechanisms that regulate this process. Dr. Christian is willing to supervise wet lab-based projects, critical reviews, or bioinformatics-based projects.

Zahra Farahnak

Dr. Farahnak studies the impacts of nutrients such as omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and exercise on fat mass and lean mass across the lifespan. The aim is to understand how different nutrients, exercise and dietary patterns may optimize body composition toward leaner body phenotype, manage chronic health conditions (e.g., obesity) and enhance healthspan.
Dr. Farahnak is interested in supervising honour projects -systematic/scoping reviews.

Travis Fridgen

Dr. Fridgen and his students study the energetics, reactions, and structures of gaseous self-assembled complexes composed of metal ions and biologically relevant molecules such as DNA bases, amino acids, and peptides. They use a combination of techniques such as mass spectrometry, tunable infrared lasers, and computational chemistry. His research program is aimed at answering fundamental questions such as how metal cations affect the intramolecular noncovalent interactions and the structures of biologically relevant molecules, and of all the metal cations in our body, why K+ is associated with guanine quadruplexes such as telomeric DNA. Honours projects can experimental, computational, or a combination depending on your interests. https://www.mun.ca/faculty/tfridgen/Struct_Ener_React_GP_Ions/

Scott Harding

Dr. Scott Harding: The Nutrition and Lifestyle Lab has several different research themes that focus on human nutrition and health. Theme 1. Sugars. We have projects that focus on how sugars get metabolized and contribute to changes in sleep, activity and how the body processes other nutrients. We also have a project that is studying the sugar sweetened beverage tax implementation in NL. Theme 2. Sleep. We have two on-going human clinical studies that are investigating the role sleep quality has on food choices and how other lifestyle factors like screen time and shift work affect sleep. Theme 3. Sea Urchin Aquaculture. We have a project that is studying the viability of sea urchin aquaculture in NL, looking specifically at dietary and genomic factors that might affect production quality. Theme 4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. We have an ongoing project that focuses on dietary omega-3 fatty acids and how the body digests, absorbs, and distributes these fats under varied dietary conditions. We have 1) animal experiment and wet lab projects, 2) systematic and scoping review projects, and 3) public health projects available.

Pavan Kakumani

Dr. Kakumani Lab works on small RNAs in post-transcriptional gene silencing. Small RNAs are short duplex RNA molecules, essential for cell homeostasis and development in animals. Changes in their expression and activity are linked to multiple human diseases including cancer and neurodegeneration. Our research program aims to identify and characterize proteins that influence small RNA function in the control of the expression of protein-coding and non-coding genes. Here, we employ animal and human cell lines along with Next Generation Sequencing and biochemical research techniques such as RNA-Immunoprecipitation, RT-qPCR based TaqMan assays to investigate the involvement of these putative candidates in small RNA biogenesis and target repression. Further, we explore the consequence of this regulation (both in vitro and in vivo) in cell proliferation, differentiation, and death - the phenomena associated with various human illnesses. Dr. Kakumani is interested in supervising thesis style options and some projects may involve co-supervision. 

Shyamchand Mayengbam

Dr. Mayengbam’s research focuses on discovering the novel roles of dietary micronutrients and bioactive molecules in preventing and treating metabolic diseases. Currently, we are investigating to understand how B-vitamins affect our gut health. We take different approaches, including profiling the gut microbiota and their metabolites to see if B-vitamins deficiencies affect their growth and metabolism. We also check gut integrity and permeability levels to understand how these micronutrients play roles in maintaining our gut barrier. My lab is also interested in producing novel sources of B-vitamins and other bioactive components from fish waste to develop marine-based nutraceuticals. Overall, my lab aims to understand the inter-relationship between the nutrient-gut-host axes. Dr. Mayengbam is interested in wet lab and scoping review.

Jaeok Park

Dr. Park studies allosteric enzyme regulation, its significance in biological pathways, and its utility in drug discovery. The working hypothesis is that enzyme allostery is much more prevalent than it has previously been perceived, especially in essential metabolic pathways. Dr. Park is particularly interested in the enzymes of isoprenoid synthesis and sugar phosphorylation. Some of these enzymes are actively pursued as a potential drug target for cardiovascular disease and cancer. The primary scientific methods of the Park lab are enzyme kinetics and protein X-ray crystallography. Dr. Park is willing to supervise any of the thesis style options, including computational studies.

Raymond Thomas

Dr. Raymond Thomas areas of research interest and expertise is as follows:
Application of lipid bioinformatics to better understand the role of lipid metabolism in:
A)  Functional food innovation and health validation using animal and cell models of brain health
B) Environmental stress biochemistry and biology using plants as models of stress response, acclimation or adaptation in boreal ecosystem
C) Boreal forest reclamation.

New Faculty Members

We anticipate two further new Faculty members being in place and available to supervise honours projects in 2022/23. The exact areas of research and types of research projects that would be available here are to be determined, but the general areas of the hires are:

Computational Protein Biochemistry

Non wet-lab computational projects almost certain to be an option. Other options may also be possible.

Life Sciences Teaching Pedagogy

Education based project almost certain to be an option. Other options may also be possible.

On Sabbatical

The following faculty members are on sabbatical for the 2022/23 academic year and therefore not available to supervise honours projects:

Dr. Fereidoon Shahidi
Dr. Rob Brown