As a recipient of one of the first major grants awarded to the Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Michael Griffin, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology, is pioneering research that one day may lead to the development of drugs aimed at obesity and diabetes.
The grant, from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, aims to provide funding to ongoing health-related research projects, expose students to research and strengthen research environments.
According to Griffin, research today must have an interdisciplinary approach with undergraduate, graduate and new medical students.
“Because of their collaboration, students will be able to publish in peer-review journals, present at national and international conferences and earn coveted residency slots,” Griffin said.
Studying the low-grade chronic inflammation that occurs when a person continually consumes more calories than burned, Griffin understands the serious physical and metabolic health effects.
“Obesity is now at epidemic proportions,” Griffin said. “As a result, many people are suffering from diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease. At the core of my research, we are studying the fundamental mechanisms by which fat cells become inflamed in response to diet and stress. What can happen is collateral damage from these molecules, released by inflamed and dying fat cells, causes damage to other tissues like the liver, muscle and pancreas, which leads to insulin resistance and diabetes.”
By understanding how this works at a fundamental level, Griffin believes researchers will be able to target several diseases at the same time. While diet and exercise are still the best ways to mitigate problems with obesity, knowing how inflammation starts, allows for the design of new drugs and dietary interventions including personalized diets and exercise recommendations.
As Griffin joins the ranks of SHSU’s esteemed osteopathic medicine faculty, the college dean, Dr. Charles Henley, sees Griffin’s study and the work of others on his team as essential to the academic process for medical students.
“As a brand-new medical school, we are very fortunate to have researchers of this caliber; it adds a depth and richness to our faculty by bringing a balance of people who are engaged in high-level biomedical research. We now have a tremendous resource,” Henley said.
“All medical students need to understand the research process: why we do research; how it benefits everybody; and how it can individually benefit them." - Dr. Charles Henley
"When students are exposed to research, it adds to their ability to obtain a residency and as a resident, you are required to do research.”
Receiving such a large grant is a great honor for Griffin who fell in love with research the first time he looked under a microscope.
“Through my research at SHSU, I can amplify the efforts toward treating multiple patients as opposed to treating patients one at a time. I can reach more people by contributing to our basic understanding of biomedical mechanisms involved in obesity and diabetes,” he said.
According to Griffin, his research would not be possible without the support of other campus entities. Faculty from the College of Science & Engineering Technology, biology department and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs have been instrumental in assisting his work.