Dr. Matthew Pamenter
Understanding how animals survive in low-oxygen environment to develop solutions to protect people against clinically relevant diseases, help people who get altitude related illnesses, and also people who exercise and visit high altitude areas
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|Introduce yourself, your experience and your credentials||
Lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, is a factor in several of the leading causes of death in Canada, including cardiac diseases, respiratory diseases and stroke.
Most research into what causes these diseases is performed on mice and rats. But these animals, like humans, are intolerant of hypoxia—so researchers can only use them to search for ways to repair damage after the fact.
As Canada Research Chair in Comparative Neurophysiology, Dr. Matthew Pamenter is looking for a new, more proactive approach to studying hypoxia. He and his research team are studying hypoxia-tolerant species—such as naked mole rats—that have lived in hypoxic (low-oxygen) environments for thousands of years.
This approach allows Pamenter and his team to identify the strategies these animals have developed over time to protect themselves from the damage caused by low-oxygen environments. It is also a first step in identifying possible ways to prevent damage caused by hypoxia before it occurs.
By studying extremely hypoxia-tolerant mammals, Pamenter and his team are hoping to better understand the mechanisms that naturally protect the brain, heart and whole organisms against the damaging effects of hypoxia. Their goal is to learn how some species have evolved to adapt to oxygen deficiency. This knowledge could lead to new strategies and therapies to treat diseases related to hypoxia.
|Describe your research||
We’re primarily interested in hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition where there is not enough oxygen available to meet an organism’s basic metabolic requirements. In nature you’ll find this sort of condition at high altitude, in underground burrows and in lots of other environments like that.
Within the human body it’s a component of a lot of pathophysiologies. Things like heart attack and stroke, anemia, and chronic pulmonary disorders. There are lots of different ways that we can mitigate the effects of systemic hypoxia. You can increase the delivery of oxygen by increasing your breathing or your heart rate or you can decrease your metabolic rate. We study both sides of this equation in the lab, so we study control of breathing, physiological responses that involve cardiac changes, and we look at metabolic responses as well.
At the cellular level we look at mitochondrial plasticity and ways in which cells are able to reduce their metabolic demand and conserve energy in a hypoxic environment. We take a comparative approach and we study animals that have naturally evolved to live in environments where there is not a lot of oxygen and we study their physiological responses and their molecular responses to hypoxia to understand how at the tissue level they’re able to survive with less oxygen than we are able to do.
As a comparative physiology lab, we use a lot of very non-traditional models in our research. Our primary model research organism is the naked mole rat, which is the most hypoxia tolerant mammal currently identified and we’re currently exploring adaptations to hypoxia throughout the system of this animal ranging from its respiratory control to synaptic control in the brain to cellular adaptations as well.
|Explain its significance||
Hypoxia is a critical component of many different disease states and pathologies. It’s also a key factor and a stress for people that live or exercise or soldier into high altitude. Our hope is that by understanding how animals have evolved naturally to survive in those sorts of environments we’re going to gain clear insight into novel ways to protect people against clinically relevant diseases, help people who get altitude related illnesses, and also people who exercise and visit high altitude and suffer negative side effects.
University of Ottawa
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