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.
Angela Wachal, MS, MEd
Angela Wachal analyzes echocardiograms and cardiac histopathology. Her work has been recognized with local Outstanding Presentation Awards and in many presentations and publications. She joined the Baack lab in 2012 as a Sanford Educator Research Fellow (SERF) from Harrisburg High School. She continued her role in basic science research part-time. During the school year, she teaches Project Lead The Way biomedical courses and dual credit anatomy and physiology courses for grades 9-12 at the Harrisburg School District.
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 Louwagie’s roles include planning and running experiments, animal work, data analyses and presentation, writing, and most importantly, learning to conduct sound, meaningful science. His projects focus on unraveling the mitochondrial roles in developmentally programmed heart disease resulting from diabetes and obesity in mothers. He earned a BA in biology from Augustana University in 2016 and is an MD/PhD student in developmental biology at the USD Sanford School of Medicine.
SD EPSCoR Research Intern
Andrew Paulsen is working to understand how the fetus regulates lipid transport across the placenta from the mother to the developing baby. He joined the Baack Lab as a SPUR summer intern in 2018. He worked with Ty Gandy to optimize methods of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) isolation from the umbilical cord to understand how prenatal exposure to maternal diabetes affects stem cell proliferation and differentiation to cardiomyocytes. He is studying biology at Augustana University.