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Principal Investigator

Elma Zaganjor

Assistant Professor, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

My research interests are in the role of mitochondrial metabolism in disease. My lab focuses on identifying the molecular mechanisms by which mitochondrial sirtuins protect from age-related disease, cancer, and diabetes.

I performed graduate training at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the laboratory of Dr. Melanie Cobb, studying the mechanisms of cancer metastasis. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Marcia Haigis at Harvard Medical School I studied the role of mitochondrial metabolism in cell fate decisions in the context of cancer biology and normal development.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Abhijit Shinde

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

My general research interests are studying how signaling, genetic and epigenetic changes regulate different cellular processes in tissues regulating whole-body metabolic homeostasis such as adipose tissue, liver, and pancreatic islets. Both white, as well as brown adipose tissues, are important players in the regulation of systemic metabolism. Furthermore, both these adipocyte types have been shown to be important sites of branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) catabolism. The Zaganjor Lab has recently identified SIRT4 as a novel regulator of BCAA catabolism during adipogenesis. Preliminary data from adipose tissue-specific SIRT4 KO mice indicate that these mice are glucose intolerant, insulin resistant as well as have adipocyte hypertrophy. I am interested in studying the functional role of SIRT4 as well as the underlying molecular mechanisms thereof in both white and brown adipocytes.

Research Assistants

Elizabeth Nunn

Research Assistant, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

BS in Biology, Belmont University, 2020.

I am interested in the cellular and molecular mechanisms that benefit cancers with the goal of identifying cancer vulnerabilities. Cancers alter their metabolism to proliferate, resist therapies, and even metastasize. Currently, I am developing screening approaches and immunofluorescence-based assays to uncover new mitochondrial mechanisms that allow for cancer survival and death resistance.

Graduate Students

Julia Pinette

Graduate Student, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

Epidemiological studies have shown that diabetic patients have increased plasma branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Adipose tissue is a known regulator of systemic metabolism, and disruption of this process causes chronic low-grade inflammation resulting in obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. The Zaganjor lab has linked BCAA catabolism in adipocytes with changes in insulin sensitivity via the mitochondrial enzyme SIRT4. Adipose tissue-specific knockout of SIRT4 leads to insulin resistance and adipose tissue hypertrophy according to my preliminary data. I am investigating the molecular mechanism by which SIRT4 regulates adipose tissue homeostasis.  

  • Previously supported by the Vanderbilt Hypertension and Blood Pressure Regulation Program (HBPRP T32 HL144446-02) 
  • Currently funded by the American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship

Undergraduate Students

Bridget Hartman

Undergraduate Student, College of Arts and Sciences

Junior; Medicine, Health, and Society with a Biological Sciences minor

Bryne Knowles

I am an undergraduate student from Denver, Colorado, majoring in Biomedical Engineering and hoping to minor in Engineering Economy. I am interested in cell regulation in relation to epigenetics and disease development. I am passionate about health, cellular biology, cellular engineering and I am planning to pursue a Ph.D. in the future!

Jacob Myers

I am a first-year undergraduate from Franklin, TN pursuing a double major in Biochemistry and Mathematics with a minor in Data Science at Vanderbilt. I am interested in the molecular mechanisms that underpin insulin resistance and diabetes. I’m passionate about health, biostatistics, and scientific literacy, and have aspirations to pursue my Ph.D. in the future.