Dr. Lee’s research has demonstrated that foods and bioactive dietary components, including berries and carotenoids, inhibit chronic inflammation and metabolic abnormalities associated with obesity by improving metabolism in metabolically active tissues, such as adipose tissue, liver, and skeletal muscle. Importantly, Dr. Lee’s studies have established a novel concept that the health-promoting properties of the bioactive food components are attributed to intertwined communications between skeletal muscle metabolism and the immune system. In particular, her lab’s recent findings have clearly suggested that active dietary components modulate a macrophage phenotypic switch, which has a significant impact on not only inflammation but metabolic pathways associated with obesity.
Due to the epidemic of obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the primary chronic liver disease in the US, and the prevention of liver fibrosis is critical to lowering liver cancer risk. However, currently, there is no effective therapy for liver fibrosis. Using various model systems in animals and humans, Dr. Lee’s research has shown that astaxanthin not only prevents the activation of hepatic stellate cells, a hepatic cell type primarily responsible for liver fibrosis, but facilitates inactivation of the cells. Her research identified astaxanthin, a xanthophyll carotenoid, and nicotinamide riboside, an NAD+precursor, have a potent anti-fibrotic action. Mechanistically, her lab has found that histone deacetylase 4 and 9 as molecular targets for the anti-fibrotic action of astaxanthin, providing a new avenue of therapeutic strategy against liver fibrosis. Currently, novel mouse models, such as cell type-specific histone deacetylast 4 and 9 are being explored to provide molecular bases of the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis.
In other research that has been conducted in Dr. Lee’s lab, Spirulina platensis, a common edible blue-green alga, has been shown to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect and to contain active compounds that can inhibit specific histone deacetylases. Given a vast interest in drug therapy for various diseases, including cancer, using histone deacetylase inhibitors, her novel findings clearly open up possibilities to develop Spirulina platensis as a natural product for health promotion.
Dr. Lee’s research has employed innovative techniques. Her laboratory has various equipment for molecular, cellular, biochemical and histologial analyses of cells and tissues. Her lab is equipped with PCRs, realtime PCRs, a cryostat, a LiCoR Odyssey, a fluorescence microscope, and much more. Notably, a Seahorse XF Extracellular Flux Analyzer, which allows measuring cell’s energetics such as glycolysis and mitochondria respiration, the Comprehensive Lab Animal Monitoring Systems for measuring metabolic rates, energy expenditure, physical activity, feeding behavior and voluntary exercise of lab animals are placed in her lab.
Overall, Dr. Lee’s research has been innovative and pioneering in the area of human nutrition by expanding basic understanding of obesity-associated inflammatory and metabolic disturbances and has provided preventive/therapeutic strategies to improve human health.