Dr. Timothy Osborne, 54, is the new director of the Metabolic Signaling and Disease Program in the Diabetes and Obesity Research Center at Burnham Institute for Medical Research in Orlando. Osborne spoke with Sentinel staff writer Fernando Quintero.
CFB: Tell me about the new the Metabolic Signaling and Disease Program you head up.
Everything you eat affects your body response. Molecules in the diet or in the digestive system are absorbed by the body, which tell the muscles to move better or the brain to think better. These processes are encoded by genes. Some have good, normal responses. Others have defective ones. We look at how and why this is to better understand diseases.
CFB: Your research is focused on understanding how the body uses taste perception to alter dietary absorption and metabolism. Can you explain?
This is an area I'm really excited about because it's just beginning to be explored. Everybody knows the tongue can sense sweet, sour, bitter, etc. This is due to molecules on your tongue. Those molecules are also in the stomach and small intestines. What are they doing in our system? It turns out they are in there to determine whether these tastes should go past your tongue to absorb them or push them down the right path. We know that bitter substances have a high tendency to be toxic. If you taste bitter in your mouth, you spit it out. There's a backup system in your gut, where the detection of bitter will slow down the movement of whatever is causing that bitter taste into the small intestine. It stays in place, where it can be expelled out for a longer period of time.
CFB: Burnham is seen as a key part of the Lake Nona "medical city" because of its collaborative and interdisciplinary nature. How important is this to your research?
It's the main reason I was attracted to Burnham. We want to bring my research along with other people who work on signaling in the brain and put all these people together in one place. Provide them with the resources and mechanisms to collaborate and synergize their individual expertise. The sum is greater than the parts. One of the first pieces of information I received from [Burnham chief executive] John Reed was the percentage of research dollars that come into Burnham, and how collaborative grants are a large part of that. In order to be competitive, it's getting more and more apparent that one has to have collaborative interaction. In disease research, you have to analyze whole metabolic systems: the heart, liver, brain. Not one lab has the expertise to do all that. You need a collaborative and holistic approach. Burnham provides that.
CFB: How about collaboration with some of the other medical powerhouses that will be part of the Lake Nona campus?
Most of our work is done with animals. Our hope is to extend this platform from animals and partner with clinical researchers at places like the University of Central Florida and M.D. Anderson Orlando's Cancer Research Institute to bring their expertise in patient management and human cohorts.
CFB: How do you think your research will contribute to the overall development of the medical city as an economic driver for the region?
I can say that Burnham is in a position to make major contributions to medical research. Its reputation is world-renown, and that, I think, is an important fact to consider when you're talking about having an impact locally. One thing I'd like to say is that the attitude and demeanor of everyone in the Orlando community has been very supportive. Everybody seems to be very excited about what's going on at Burnham and very willing to help out and participate. To have a community that is recognizing our involvement in the development of the Orlando community is a tremendous asset.
Fernando Quintero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-650-6333.