J Thomas Brenna
Research Interests

We have need in 2023 for motivated undergraduate research volunteers interested in becoming proficient in and implementing laboratory techniques for fatty acid analysis and for related molecular biology/genetics.  Our laboratories are in the Dell Pediatric Research Institute 3 miles north of the Tower requiring  personal transportation, normally access to a car.  We collaborate with researchers nationally and internationally in human clinical studies and in food analysis related to human nutrition.  Successful students intend on a long term experience that, after demonstrating proficiency in the first semester, can result in research credit, honors projects, and/or authorship on research publications.  A minimum commitment of an average of 10 hours per week is required.

Our research group is concerned with three areas, requirements for polyunsaturated fatty acids in the perinatal period, development of advanced analytical chemical instrumentation, particularly mass spectrometry, for biomedical applications, and development of high precision isotope ratio mass spectrometry for anti-doping applications. Our polyunsaturated fatty acid work focuses on factors that influence demand for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, notably prematurity, and most of our studies are conducted in non-human primates. Our instrumentation work is aimed at development of high precision isotope ratio mass spectrometry for tracer applications and for detection of natural physiological isotopic fractionation. Stable isotope tracer studies of omega-3 fatty acids focus on brain and associated organ development and on improvement of mass spectrometry-based instrumentation for fatty acid studies. Ongoing research involves improvements to instrumentation for analysis of performance-enhancing steroids in the context of elite athletics. Recent work shows that human omega-3 DHA synthesis is by 4-desaturation mediated by the FADS2 gene; the saturated fatty acid palmitic acid can interfere with the polyunsaturated fatty acid access to FADS2 desaturation and endogenous long chain PUFA synthesis required for membrane structure and lipid-derived signaling compounds; balanced omega-6 and omega-3 PUFA in Read-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) used in recovery from severe acute malnutrition is required to support endogenous DHA biosynthesis needed for brain development.

Typical student contributions to my research
Cell culture
Molecular biology - PCR, electrophoresis, gene expression, etc.
Gas chromatography, mass spectrometry
Isotope ratio mass spectrometry
Comments about previous experiences working with students

All working with us must have a car to get to our lab in the Dell Pediatric Research Institute on 51st St. Undergraduate students in our lab typically work with cell cultures, molecular biology, and chromatography; we seldom work directly with humans though we do analyze human samples. First student learn techniques, then repeat them so that we are confident that they achieve reliable, reproducible results. They then work directly on parts of projects of senior group members - graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, research scientists. Some can take up independent projects. Students learn to generate reliable data, and many students are listed as co-authors on published, peer-reviewed papers. Students should expect to be at our labs at least 2 days per week and 10 hours, total, per week.

Regions of Academic Interest
Countries of Academic Interest