In mammals, most lipids, such as fatty acids and cholesterol, are absorbed into the body via the small intestine. The complexity of the cells and fluids that inhabit this organ make it very difficult to study in a laboratory setting. The goal of the Farber lab is to better understand the cell and molecular biology of lipids within digestive organs by exploiting the many unique attributes of the clear zebrafish larva to visualize lipid uptake and processing in real time. Given their utmost necessity for proper cellular function, it is not surprising that defects in lipid metabolism underlie a number of human diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.
The Farber lab has developed an approach using larval zebrafish to visualize lipid uptake and processing in live intestinal enterocytes at the subcellular level. They developed a high-fat diet and used fluorescent lipids to track lipid processing within the absorptive cells of the intestine.
Among their findings, they confirmed that a fatty acid called oleic acid can greatly increase the uptake of dietary cholesterol. Additionally, they found that symbiotic microorganisms can influence intestinal uptake of dietary fatty acids derived from a high fat meal. Once these fatty acids are taken up by the absorptive cells of the intestine, they were rapidly stored in subcellular organelles commonly referred to as lipid droplets. In contrast, cholesterol from the same meal was stored by intestinal cells in special structures, called endosomes, which are distinct from lipid droplets. Ongoing work in the Farber lab is focused on delineating the specific routes that cholesterol and fatty acids take that ultimately leads to their secretion into the blood via lipoproteins (e.g. LDL and HDL).
Farber is also very involved in outreach. Together with Dr. Jamie Shuda, he created Project BioEYES. It incorporates life science and laboratory education using zebrafish to excite students’ interest in science by bringing the zebrafish to K-12th grade classrooms for hands-on experiments. The program teaches students about science literacy, genetics, the experimental process and the cardiovascular system through the use of live zebrafish and has reached over 100,000 children worldwide.
Prior to joining Carnegie as a staff researcher in 2004, Farber was as assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University. He receive a B.S.E. (Electrical and Biomedical Engineering) from Rutgers College of Engineering; an M.S. (Technology and Policy) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and a Ph. D. (Neurobiology) from MIT. He was also a Carnegie fellow in Marnie Halpern’s lab. For more see the Farber lab