Coughlan research group

Key terms: Diabetes, mitochondria, advanced glycation end products, processed food, dietary modification, nutrition

2021 group. L-R: Ms Adrienne Laskowski, Dr Matthew Snelson, Associate Professor Melinda Coughlan, Dr Sih Min Tan

Research goals

  1. To understand how overconsumption of processed foods leads to the development of chronic disease
  2. To identify new therapeutic targets to slow the progression of diabetic complications

Honours and postgraduate research Projects

Group Leader

Publication highlight

  • Snelson M, Tan SM, Clarke RE, de Pasquale  C, Thallas-Bonke V, Nguyen T-V, Penfold SA, Harcourt BE, Sourris KC, Lindblom RS, Ziemann M, Steer D, El-Osta A, Davies MJ, Donnellan L, Deo P, Kellow NJ, Cooper ME, Woodruff TM, Mackay CR, Forbes JM, Coughlan MT. Processed Foods drive Intestinal Barrier permeability and Microvascular Diseases. Science Advances 31 Mar 2021, V7, no.14, DOI:10.1126/sciadv.abe4841
  • Associated clinical trial

A/Prof Melinda Coughlan explains why processed foods trigger CKD. See video (4:29 min)

Research overview

Our laboratory focuses on dietary factors leading to the onset and/or progression of diabetes and its complications. We also aim to identify new biochemical targets of therapy for diabetic complications.

It is becoming increasingly recognised that environmental factors are involved in the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Diet is thought to play a key role. Our intake of processed foods has increased dramatically over the past 40 years. Since the diet is comprised of a multitude of nutritional and chemical molecules capable of regulating diverse biological processes, it is plausible that certain constituents of the diet are responsible for the initiation of pathways of disease. More research is critical to unravel the complex relationships among diet, physiology and risk of chronic disease.

A major goal of this laboratory is to understand which constituents of the modern diet initiate pathological processes. This is achieved through laboratory-based nutrition science using dietary intervention studies coupled with innovative methods to elucidate mechanisms at the molecular level using a multidisciplinary approach. This research is readily translated by collaboration with dieticians and nutrition researchers.

Diabetes-associated kidney disease, which affects more than 400,000 Australians, is the major cause of end-stage renal disease, requiring dialysis or kidney transplantation for survival. Current clinical therapies used to treat patients with diabetic kidney disease can only delay and do not prevent this progression to end stage renal disease. There is an urgent need to understand the factors that trigger kidney damage in diabetes, and to develop new therapies that can be applied early in the disease to stop the progression to end stage renal disease.

A key aim of the laboratory is to develop better treatment strategies for individuals with diabetic nephropathy by studying biochemical mechanisms in genetically modified mouse models and in cell culture. Preclinical discoveries are directly translated to human disease by investigating relevant markers of these pathways in human renal biopsies, plasma and urine from individuals with diabetes.

Current project funding

  • 2016-21 Coughlan MT. JDRF Career Development Award.  Mapping the mitochondrial signature of individuals with type 1 diabetes and nephropathy. $ 920,000.00

Pubmed link [Coughlan MT]