Professor of Biomedical Biochemistry in College of Science.
After completing his PhD at the University of Liverpool in 1994, Prof Whitehead moved to the University of Cambridge where he began work in the area of insulin signalling, insulin resistance and obesity. In 1999 he relocated to Australia taking up positions at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland (UQ), then the Diabetes & Obesity Research Program at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney. In 2002 he returned to UQ to take up independent positions in the Department of Diabetes at the Princess Alexandra Hospital followed by the Mater Research Institute. He returned to the UK in late 2016 to take up the position of Professor of Biomedical Biochemistry at the University of Lincoln.
During his time in Australia Prof Whitehead became heavily involved in a number of professional societies including the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), the Australian Diabetes Society (ADS) and the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS) taking a lead role in conference organisation and serving on council. He also served regularly on a number of grant review panels including the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). He has also taken a lead role in the development of post-graduate student services acting as Co-chair/Chair on Post-Graduate Education Committees whilst supervising around 20 Post-Graduate (PhD) students and 10 Hons students.
The overall aim of our research is to identify novel strategies to reduce cardiometabolic diseases. As such, we study mechanisms that govern metabolic and cardiovascular homeostasis. These processes often become defective in obesity resulting in the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We use in vitro and in vivo systems and employ a range of techniques involving molecular and cellular biology combined with biochemistry and ‘omics’ approaches to define molecular mechanisms that contribute to cardiometabolic health and disease.
New ways to prevent the negative impact of obesity
The World Health Organisation recognises obesity as one of the greatest global health problems of the 21st century. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing chronic “obesity-related” diseases that include type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension as well as most cancers. The underlying reasons for these associations are intrinsically linked to the adipocyte. We now know that adipocytes serve as energy stores and dynamic endocrine cells that secrete a plethora of hormones into our bloodstream in a regulated fashion. These adipocyte-derived hormones, or adipokines, coordinate most aspects of our physiology, from behaviour to fertility. In the lean state, small ‘healthy’ adipocytes secrete a cocktail of hormones that help to prevent the development of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension. However, in most obese individuals, adipocytes become enlarged and ‘angry’ causing them to secrete an inflammatory mixture of hormones that promote disease. We are pursuing complementary approaches to ameliorate or prevent this. First, we are identifying ways to prevent adipocyte hypertrophy by defining the processes that govern the generation of new healthy adipocytes, with a view to modulating these processes in people. Second, we are establishing ways to increase the production and or sensitivity of a key hormone, adiponectin. Adiponectin is a beneficial hormone and paradoxically, although produced by adipocytes, its production goes down in obesity and related diseases. Evidence suggests that reversing the decline in adiponectin will prevent many obesity related complications. In complementary studies we are characterising the molecular details of the adiponectin receptors, which are atypical 7 transmembrane-domain receptors, to identify ways to enhance adiponectin sensitivity. We envisage that these novel approaches will also promote weight loss due to improved metabolism and view them as an essential adjunct to lifestyle education and intervention approaches to combat this 21st century pandemic.
Historically, during my time in Australia (1999-2016), I enjoyed a number of fruitful collaborations with experts in dietetics, nutrition and exercise, investigating the molecular effects of lifestyle interventions, as well as Pharma involved in obesity and cardiometabolic research. I hope to establish similar collaborations having relocated to the UK.
The lab currently has a number of projects suitable for PhD students as well as projects for post-doctoral scientists. Feel free to contact Jon Whitehead (jwhitehead ‘at’ lincoln.ac.uk) to discuss possibilities of joining the Team.
Council Member - Australian & New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS) (2015-2016)
Convenor - ANZOS Annual Society Meeting (ASM) (2016)
Co-convenor/basic stream leader - ANZOS ASM (2015)
Member - conference organizing committee - ANZOS ASM (2014)
Chair: ASBMB - Special Interest Group (SIG) - Molecular and Metabolic Medicine (MMM) (2011-2014)
Chair: ASBMB-SIG-MMM Queensland node (2010-2012)
Steering Committee Member: ASBMB-SIG-MMM (2006-2010)
Member: COST Action (European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research) (2008-2010)
Member: Australian Diabetes Society – Annual conference organizing committee (2008-2009)
Member: Diabetes Australia Research Trust GRP (2007-2009)
Member: NHMRC GRP (2005/2006/2008/2012/2013/2014/2015)
Member: Asia Pacific Diabetes and Obesity Study Group (2005/2006/2008)
Member: Southern Cross Signalling Consortium (2005-2008)