Elizabeth Rideout has been named CIHR Sex and Gender Science Chair in Genetics.
The four-year, $175,000/year chair was one of 17 awarded in early April to support in-depth investigations in specific health and social science disciplines, including aging, cancer, immunity, mental health and addictions, where the chairs are expected to drive visibility and innovation.
“My research program focuses on understanding how biological sex affects metabolism,” said Dr. Rideout, an assistant professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, and a member of the LSI’s Diabetes Research Group. “In my lab, we use the fruit fly as a model to discover genes that determine sex differences in metabolism. Specifically, we are interested in finding genes that determine sex differences in the production and biological action of insulin in the body.”
Dr. Rideout’s research examines how male-female differences in the production and action of insulin in the body arise, and how disrupting these processes affects growth, stress responses, and lifespan in each sex. Because abnormal insulin production and action leads to many diseases, including diabetes, this research strongly aligns with the chair program’s objectives of deepening understanding of how biological sex impacts health and disease.
The initiative is also intended to promote sex and gender science across health research domains, while also building capacity and sharing findings within and outside of the chair holders’ respective research communities.
“One of the motivations for this funding opportunity was that we know men and women differ in the risk of developing many diseases,” explains Dr. Rideout. “They also differ in how well some treatments work, and in how fast a disease may progress. For example, men have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
“My research takes place at the earliest stage of the discovery process,” she adds. “We study how insulin normally works in the body of male and female fruit flies. By discovering genes that help insulin work normally in the body of male and female flies, we will build a foundation of knowledge that will be used by other researchers to understand why one sex is at a higher risk of developing diseases linked with abnormal insulin production and action, like type 2 diabetes.”
But why use the fruit fly? “Flies are a great model because the male-female differences in insulin production and action in flies mirror the differences we see in other animals, including humans. Also, studies show that genes impacting insulin production and action in humans perform similar roles in flies.”
In addition to supporting innovative research, building capacity for the next generation of researchers in the field is a key goal of the new Sex and Gender Science Chair Program, according to Dr. Rideout. “These chairs are like an accelerator. Not only does the chair contribute $100,000 towards your research, but it also provides $75,000 for expanding capacity and knowledge-sharing within your field. I’m super excited about this part, because it will allow me to establish new research collaborations, to enhance trainee career development, and to promote knowledge sharing between UBC researchers interested in sex differences in metabolism and metabolic disease.”
Dr. Rideout will be collaborating with LSI’s James Johnson – also affiliated with Cellular and Physiological Sciences and a member of the Diabetes Research Group – as well as Dr. Liisa Galea, a professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology. Together, they will increase the number of students trained to include sex and gender in research, cement strategic partnerships, and do advocacy work.
“Dr. Rideout’s group and mine have been collaborating for a few years to try to better understand inherent sex differences in the genomic landscape and function of insulin-secreting pancreatic beta-cells,” says Dr. Johnson. With support from the chair, a trainee will be funded to translate her lab’s work in flies to animal model research in Johnson’s lab. “This work is important,” Johnson adds, “because it provides a mechanistic explanation for underlying sex differences in insulin production that may affect obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
Chair will also fund:
• A 1.5 day conference bringing leading scientists, media experts and community stakeholders together to discuss and form connections around women’s brain health, to be hosted by the Women’s Health Research Cluster
• Publication of a white paper identifying best practices in sex- and gender-based analyses, to support manuscript and grant review processes
• Trainee travel awards to national and international conferences to showcase sex and gender-informed science
• A symposium on sex differences in metabolism and metabolic disease to be presented at the Vancouver Diabetes Research Day
“This chair represents the work of many individuals,” says Dr. Rideout. “I have a lab filled with outstanding scientists, all of whom are looking forward to expanding our work on sex differences in insulin production and action over the next four years. Together with our wonderful collaborators at the LSI, in the Diabetes Research Group, and at UBC, we are poised to make rapid progress in research and to train a new generation of researchers in the field of Sex and Gender Science.”
More information about the CIHR Sex and Gender Chairs
Read about Dr. Rideout’s research on the role of the triglyceride lipase Brummer in drosophila fat storage and breakdown
Dr. Rideout published a new study on sex-specific insulin signalling April 27