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Meet Our Fellows: Alena Akhmetshina

My name is Alena Akhmetshina and I am a PhD student enrolled in the international PhD program “Metabolic and Cardiovascular Disease (DK-MCD)” at the Medical University of Graz. I perform my PhD thesis entitled “Lysosomal lipid breakdown in bone and muscle growth” under the supervision of Univ.-Prof. Dr. Dagmar Kratky.

Lysosomal acid lipase (LAL) deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of fracture and impaired bone homeostasis, driven by altered lipid metabolism in osteoblasts. However, the molecular mechanism has not been fully described. In addition to bone forming osteoblasts, recent studies have revealed that an increased amount of bone marrow adipose tissue (BM-AT) is connected to aging, obesity, and osteoporosis. BM-AT is a unique AT that represents more than 10% of total fat mass in lean and healthy people. Interestingly, Lipa, the gene that encodes LAL, expression is relatively high in BM-AT and contains cholesteryl esters as the predominant lipid. Taken together, these data suggest that LAL has a role regulating bone development and homeostasis via the osteoblasts and/ or BM-AT.

To better understand how lipid metabolism regulated by LAL alters function of BM-AT and/ or osteoblasts, I aimed to perform a series of experiments with the support of Dr. Rendina-Ruedy’s laboratory at Vanderbilt University as my research stay abroad. First, we aimed to characterize the cell-autonomous role of LAL in osteoblasts in vivo by generating a bone-specific Lal-/- (bLal-/-) mice. These data include metabolic and skeletal phenotyping, as well as further cellular mechanistic data. Additionally, we have designed several in vitro experiments to investigate the role of LAL in BM-adipocytes.

I have currently been in the U.S. for 4 months and I am lucky to be a part of prof. Rendina-Ruedy’s team. My current lab members did assist me not only to learn new methods of studying bone tissue but also made me feel at home in a new country. Lastly, through the generous Marshall Plan scholarship my research has been fully supported, advanced my professional career, and broadened my scientific career. I am confident that this experience in the U.S. will establish me as a competitive postdoctoral candidate to continue by scientific training.