Epigenetist joins CABNR's nutrition team

Dr. Brad Ferguson, assistant professor, Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Veterinary Sciences

Brad Ferguson recenlty joined the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Veterinary Sciences. Ferguson’s research is focused on understanding how obesity and diabetes contribute to the development of a dysfunctional heart that may ultimately lead to heart failure. Ferguson is passionate about his research and discovering what processes occur at the cellular level.

“My lab is focused on trying to understand how things like obesity and diabetes contribute to the development of a dysfunctional heart,” Ferguson said. “What is it about someone who is diabetic or someone who is obese that makes them more prone to develop heart failure?”

While Ferguson was working on his Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, he initially became interested in looking at the role of chronic inflammation in adipose tissue.

“Obesity is often associated with chronic low grade inflammation,” Ferguson said. “Inflammation is thought to play a key role in processes like a person developing diabetes and it can also lead to other diseases thought to cause cardiovascular disease.”
Ferguson completed his postdoctoral fellowship in the division of cardiology and internal medicine at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he focused specifically on heart failure.

Ferguson is looking forward to having the opportunity to combine both obesity and diabetes research in order to address the broader question of what it is about these diseases that cause the cell to become dysfunctional.

Ferguson’s specific research goals are to study how diet and nutrition can affect the epigenome, the various chemical compounds that control the genome, in a way that protects the heart from dysfunction.

“We’re looking at about 130 different bioactive compounds, which are derived from plants, like fruits and vegetables, to see which of those alter a group of proteins,” Ferguson said. “These are proteins that either allow or inhibit genes assembly and if genes can be made, what proteins are produced and the functionality of the cells.”

Discovering which compounds in food alter those proteins, and understanding how obesity alters the epigenome in a way that contributes to disease progression of the heart is the foundation of Ferguson’s work.

Ferguson is teaching a new course on macro-nutrients (substances required in relatively large amounts by living organisms) at the graduate student level. This spring he will also be teaching an undergraduate class that focuses sports nutrition and epigenetics or changes in our body caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

Outside of his career, Ferguson loves spending time with his family and enjoying outdoor activities and rock climbing with his daughter. Ferguson is passionate about his work and excited to begin his career here at UNR. He is most looking forward to conducting his own research projects and working with the CABNR community.