A Portland State University biology professor will continue her research into the effect of the Western diet on the immune system and disease outcomes, thanks to a $1.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Brooke Napier, an assistant biology professor in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, received a grant from the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award program of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The five-year grant supports Napier’s overall research lab rather than one specific project.
Napier’s lab will be building on previous work that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February. Her study found that mice that were fed the Western diet — a diet characterized as being low in fiber and high in fat and sugar — showed an increase in chronic inflammation, sepsis severity and higher mortality rates than mice that were fed a normal diet.
“This grant allows us to understand the molecular mechanisms behind how the Western diet influences immune cell function,” Napier said.
Napier will use core facilities at OHSU and Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute to analyze single white blood cells using a technique called flow cytometry, and do lipidomics to understand which lipids are circulating in the bloodstream.
“What we know is that if you have excess fatty acids in your diet, they’re going to be floating around your bloodstream,” she said. “We want to know which fatty acids are floating around because they might actually be influencing the function of immune cells.”
Her lab will also be looking at the regulation of diet on the immune system and whether dietary intervention can help to reverse outcomes.
Napier said the grant provides her with greater stability and flexibility, allowing her to spend more time on finding scientific breakthroughs than on grant-writing.
“With this grant, we have more freedom with what we follow up with,” she said. “If we find something interesting, we can dive into those curiosities rather than set them aside for a future grant.”
The grant runs through 2024.