New NIH-Funded Professor Researches Smell Receptors – In the Kidneys

OCTOBER 2, 2017 – Many people might be surprised to learn that the nose is not the only place in the body that contains smell receptors.

Blythe Shepard, PhD, a new assistant professor of human science at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, is directing her own research to understand the activity of olfactory receptor 1393 in the kidneys.

“It may sound odd that olfactory receptors are in the kidneys,” she admits. “But when you stop and think about it, they are really just chemical detectors that can sense chemicals in the blood and newly forming urine to help maintain homeostasis and overall kidney function.”

Regulating Glucose

Shepard, whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health (1K01DK106400-01A1), recently uncovered how the receptor she studies is involved in regulating the way the kidneys manage and process glucose.

“Glucose is a molecule that your body really wants to hold on to,” she says. “It is particularly important for brain function, and your kidneys play a major role in insuring that it is not lost in the urine. The act of reabsorbing glucose from the forming urine is also important to patients with diabetes.”

Her future work will focus on the receptor’s involvement in disease development and “identifying new sensory receptors that are expressed in other tissues.”

‘Incredibly Bright Students’

Shepard earned a bachelor of science in biology and a bachelor of arts in secondary education, both from Boston College. She later pursued her PhD in cellular and microbial biology at the Catholic University of America. She completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

At Georgetown, in addition to serving as principal investigator on her grant, she is currently teaching the course “Language of Health and Disease.”

“I have always known that I wanted to be at a place that values education both in the classroom and in the laboratory,” she says. “I love the idea that I get to teach classes to incredibly bright students who are naturally curious about biology, health, and disease and that I can continue my research goals in a collegial and supportive environment.”