The research interests of Karl J. Clark, Ph.D., focus on molecular-level interactions between the individual organism and its environment.
Environmental interactions play a critical role in the quality of life of a living organism, but the molecular nature of how the environment influences alterations within an individual is largely unknown. Evidence suggests that these interactions induce changes at molecular, cellular and system levels that can result in lifelong or even multigenerational changes to physiology or behavior. Dr. Clark's research involves deploying zebrafish, a vertebrate model organism with genetic tractability, to study the vertebrate stress response system, a diverse suite of neuronal, endocrine and autonomic response mechanisms that play key roles in environmental interactions.
Dr. Clark and colleagues are focused on questions such as:
- What genes play a role in modulating the stress response?
- How are early environmental stimuli recorded to create long-lasting changes in the biology of animals?
- How do stressors and the body's response to stressors contribute to the onset and severity of disease?
Significance to patient care
The clinical significance of stress-aggravated disorders is extremely high. Stress aggravation can occur when a stressor is too strong (acute), occurs too often (chronic), or alters long-term responses to future stressors through neural network or epigenetic transcriptome changes.
The genetic and environmental interactions of the stress response system and the system's role in disease progression depend on heritable genetic factors, life-priming events and later life events that may trigger disease onset. Normal life-priming promotes adaptive resilience to stressors. However, both low and high exposures to stress can be maladaptive to the developing stress response system.
Dr. Clark's research contributes to a better understanding of how the stress response system develops, how it impacts patient health and how it can be best modulated to benefit the patient.
- Outstanding Junior Faculty Travel Award, International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society, 2014
- Young Investigator Travel Award, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Mini Convention: Frontiers in Addiction Research, NIDA, 2010
- Co-founder of Recombinetics Inc., 2008