Texas Tech University

Graduate Student Receives Grand Prize for Young Minority Investigator

Christiani Saucedo

March 12, 2015

Monique LeMieux is researching the molecular and metabolic basis for obesity and insulin resistance as a part of her dissertation.

Monique LeMieux
Monique LeMieux

Monique LeMieux, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Tech University, was among five women selected to give an oral presentation at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Young Minority Investigator Oral Competition, sponsored by DSM Nutritional Products LLC. Seven judges awarded her with the grand prize based on her presentation.

“I think one of the hardest things is the Q-and-A after the talk, because you never know what they are going to ask,” LeMieux said. “However, I always try to practice my talk several times in front of my lab group, so that generally helps me prepare better. I also think teaching a course that has 185 students has helped me become more comfortable in talking to large groups.”

LeMieux received her bachelor's degree in biology from Christopher Newport University and her master's degree in life sciences at the University of Tennessee. She then enrolled at Texas Tech to work on part of her dissertation, understanding the molecular and metabolic basis for obesity and insulin resistance. She also helped redesign an introductory nutrition course for non-majors (NS 1325) at Texas Tech, which she also teaches.

During her time at Texas Tech, LeMieux has received several travel awards, including the ASN/Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Travel Award, and The Obesity Society (TOS) 2013 Early Career Investigator Award, sponsored by Coca-Cola.

“The ASN/MARC travel award is for minority or underrepresented graduate students to attend and present their research at a national conference,” LeMieux said. “The TOS 2013 Early Career Investigator award was given based on the abstract I submitted to Obesity Week that year. I also received an award from the basic science of TOS for the poster I presented at Obesity Week that year.” Obesity Week is the annual meeting of The Obesity Society.

LeMieux has published two symposium papers regarding the sessions on metabolomics and nutrimetabolomics organized and chaired by her adviser, Dr. Naima Moustaid-Moussa at the Experimental Biology meeting; and funded in part by a conference grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Recently, she published a research paper in the Journal of Nutrition based on the research she presented at the young minority investigator competition last year.

“Basically, we studied mice that were fed a high-fat diet supplemented with the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a fatty acid commonly found in fish oil,” LeMieux said. “Our lab has found that some of the metabolic effects of obesity, such as insulin resistance, were reduced by EPA. In my paper, we wanted to understand how this was occurring, so I did further follow-up experiments using adipose (fat) tissue collected from these mice and saw that compared to mice fed only a high-fat diet, those with high fat and EPA supplementation had smaller fat cells and markedly reduced signs of adipose tissue inflammation (a common hallmark of obesity).”

Monique LeMieux
Monique LeMieux

LeMieux is working on another paper regarding the second part of her dissertation, the role of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS), an endocrine system known to regulate blood pressure in obesity. She is working to further understand whether this system mediates some of the inflammatory responses that co-exist with obesity. She is specifically inactivating the main protein of RAS in the fat tissue to determine whether obesity and inflammation will be prevented.

“So far I have presented this research at Obesity Week, at the International Congress on Obesity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and at the second ICAN Conference Series on diabetes, obesity and heart diseases in Paris, France,” LeMieux said.

She hopes her research can be used to develop new pharmacological and nutritional therapies for people who suffer from obesity. Currently, her research can't be applied directly to humans because it is based on work done on mice and cell culture experiments but will help inform future clinical studies.

“My research can be used as a basis for scientists who do clinical work in humans,” LeMieux said. “In addition, by understanding the mechanisms involved in obesity, we can better understand how to design therapies to help reduce or prevent many of the metabolic effects of obesity.”

LeMieux hopes to earn a faculty position where she can pass on her knowledge to students while conducting her own independent research. She is currently applying for postdoctoral and faculty positions.

“Grad school is not easy, especially when working toward a doctorate,” LeMieux said. “I think being able to successfully restart my life in two different states during my graduate career is a major accomplishment.”

Naima Moustaid-Moussa, a professor in Nutritional Sciences and director of the Obesity Research Cluster said she believes LeMieux is highly deserving of recognition because of her willingness to work hard and be an excellent team player, researcher and teacher.

“She has made outstanding progress in a short time after she started her degree program here,” Moustaid-Moussa said. “She published several papers and won numerous awards almost every year, including the national level. She has been representing herself, my lab, our department, college and university extremely well. I am very proud of her.”

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