Primary Research Focus
The goal of the Baack Lab is to understand the role of mitochondria and metabolism in the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD).
Disease actually starts long before any symptoms ever develop and is often triggered by genetic and environmental influences. When an environmental stimulus occurs during a critical window of early development to cause life-long changes in the structure and function of the body, this is called developmental programming.
Infants born to diabetic or obese mothers are at higher risk of heart disease at birth and as an adult, likely due to exposure to excess circulating fuels (glucose and lipids) in utero. While improving glucose control during pregnancy is the standard of care, we found that additional dietary changes may improve the health of both mother and her baby.
Using a rat model, we discovered that excess circulating fats from maternal diabetes and a high-fat diet damage mitochondria in the developing fetal heart, leading to impaired metabolism, energy production, contractility and risk of cell death (heart attack) into adulthood.
Now our lab is developing methods to detect, prevent and treat heart disease in high-risk babies throughout their life.
About the Baack Lab
Lab Projects and News
Neonatal Research Network
Dr. Baack’s clinical research has focused on optimizing the provision of essential fatty acids key to normal infant health, brain and retinal development. We completed a randomized, placebo-controlled trial that established feasibility, tolerability and improved efficacy of daily enteral docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation for premature infants to serve as the foundation for larger studies aimed at improved outcomes. The Mother’s Milk DHA study helped moms assure that their breast milk provides the best fats to support their baby’s development. With Dr. Baack’s help, Sanford Research and Sanford Health paired up to establish a strong base of clinical research in the Boekelheide NICU. This includes leading an initiative to be approved as a satellite site to the University of Iowa in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) - Neonatal Research Network (NRN).
Mitochondrial Dynamism & Heart Disease
Dr. Baack was the recipient of an NIH-K08 Career Development Award with a basic science project aimed at understanding fuel-mediated effects on the developing heart. Using a rat model, the Baack Lab showed that late-gestation diabetes, especially alongside a maternal high-fat diet, incites mitochondrial dysfunction, altered bioenergetics and cardiomyopathy in newborn offspring. Cardiometabolic consequences persist in adulthood. Findings serve as a critical step in understanding the role of mitochondria and cellular bioenergetics in developmentally programmed cardiovascular disease. Now, under NIH-COBRE project and foundation funding, the lab is translating findings through the use of cardiac progenitor cells derived from human umbilical – mesenchymal stem cells. Our lab also collaborates with others to understand additional untoward consequences and molecular mechanisms of lipid-mediated disease (placental function, stillbirths, pulmonary, renal, pancreatic, neurodevelopmental outcomes).
Meet The Baack Lab
Tricia Larsen, BS
Senior Research Specialist
Tricia Larsen develops and validates protocols, manages lab experiments, assists in teaching students, and provides technical knowledge and support to all projects of the Baack Lab. Her primary project is studying the role of dyslipidemia and diabetes in the developmental origins of cardiac health and disease. She earned a bachelor of science degree from South Dakota State University in 2001 and has worked at Myriad Genetics Laboratories and the Harmon/Perryman lab at Sanford Research.
Abby joined the lab as a graduate student in 2021. Her work uses our rat model to understand the effects of periconceptual maternal diet on the developing preimplantation embryo. Specifically, she is testing dietary interventions during breeding to determine if they can reverse the detrimental effects of a maternal high fat diet on female fertility, transcriptomic and metabolic outcomes for the developing offspring as well as future generations. Abby’s daily activities in the lab involve working with animal models to assess markers of oxidative stress, embryo grades, viability, and genomic signatures. Additionally, she is validating assays to detect differences in sperm count, motility and genomics in prenatally exposed male offspring. While doing this, Abby is learning techniques for embryo collection, culture, grading, cryopreservation, molecular analyses, writing, analyzing data, and thinking critically which will help her as a budding PhD and potential embryologist. Abby earned a BS in Biology from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire in 2019 before beginning her PhD training at USD – Sanford School of Medicine Basic Biomedical Sciences program.
Ty Gandy, BS
Associate Research Specialist
Ty Gandy is responsible for the maintenance of primary cell culture lines, qPCR, westerns, stem cell differentiation, immunohistochemistry, immunocytochemistry, ELISA, and various other general lab experiments. He uses human umbilical cord Mesenchymal Stem Cell (huMSC) derived cardiac progenitors to help understand how exposure to diabetes or obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of developmentally programmed heart disease.
Eli started work in the Baack Lab as a Sanford Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) student in 2014 when he worked to delineate the role of the placenta in regulating lipotoxic effects of diabetic and high fat diet on the developing fetus. After acceptance to the USD-SSOM MD/PhD training program, he remained in the lab to use primary isolated cardiomyocytes, live-cell confocal analyses, XF analyses and mitochondrial transfer to establish mitochondrial roles in developmentally programmed heart disease. He successfully defended his thesis on December 9, 2020 and is completing his MD portion of training.
Prathapan Ayyappan, PhD
Dr. Ayyappan joined the lab as a Staff Scientist in 2021. He aims to understand the role of cellular bioenergetics in developmentally programmed cardiovascular disease. Mitochondria are not only key regulators of cardiac metabolism and energy production necessary for continued contractility, but also mediate cell fate including proliferation, differentiation, and viability that could alter normal development and increase the risk of cell death during ischemia and reperfusion injury. We use many in vitro and in vivo models to understand how mitochondria mediate stem cell fate and cardiomyocyte maturation to influence heart disease risk in offspring born to diabetic and high-fat fed mothers. Dr. Ayyappan holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Kerala, India. He did his Post-Doctoral trainings at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada and at the Dept. of Surgery-Transplant, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, USA.