Michelle Kwon

Michelle Kwon participated in the 2018 Three Minute Thesis competition, with her presentation, "The hormone leptin controls blood sugar levels."

Hormonal Regulation of Glucose Homeostasis

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was fortunate to be in a great undergraduate program at UBC (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), which encouraged undergraduate research as part of the curriculum. As an undergraduate student, I was part of different research projects on a wide range of topics including neuroscience and clinical research in metabolic disease. Fortunately, I was always surrounded by encouraging mentors who took the time to teach me research skills and introduce me to various research topics. During this time, I came to enjoy research and decided to pursue a graduate degree! I like that in research, you get to be creative and think of innovative ways to answer questions related to biology.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I decided to stay at UBC for my graduate degree because the research environment at UBC is great for trainees, especially for graduate students. There is a lot of collaborative research, especially between departments, which exposes you to various research topics and research environments. Also, there is an emphasis on strong graduate programs that value learning and growth for their students, and support their students through scholarships.


Learn more about Michelle's research

My research studies metabolic processes that regulate blood sugar levels in the body. Armed with information on these metabolic processes, I try to find ways modulate these processes with the goal of developing novel therapeutic approaches to lower blood sugar levels in diabetes. I am especially interested in studying metabolic processes that can lower blood sugar without insulin. Bypassing insulin to lower blood sugar would prove useful since patients with diabetes may suffer from dangerously low blood sugar caused by injection of too much insulin and many develop resistance to their insulin therapies. So, replacing or supplementing insulin injections would be useful in diabetes treatment.

In the Kieffer lab, we recently found that the brown adipose tissue can be targeted to lower blood sugar levels using a metabolic hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21). The brown adipose tissue is a very specialized tissue, which uses fuels such as sugars and fats to make heat. We found that activating heat production in the brown adipose tissue can act as a "glucose sink" and lower blood sugar levels in diabetic rodents. We also found that this "glucose sink" isn't regulated by insulin. Since the recent discovery of brown adipose tissue in humans, there has been significant interest in targeting this tissue to lower circulating fats and blood sugar. My research continues to study how hormones regulate brown adipose tissue activity and has also branched to studying how metabolic hormones direct the liver to use and build sugars.