Jon Campbell Is Challenging Classic Models of Metabolic Disease

Jonathan Campbell, PhD, asked me to write that he is taller and a bit more handsome than most scientists. I will neither confirm nor deny those assertions, but I will acknowledge that Dr. Campbell has a unique way of describing his recent collaborations and research on metabolism and Type 2 diabetes.

“The rest of the world has been thinking that it’s almost like the emperor has no clothes,” he says. “But we’re the guys who came right in and said ‘Hm, that dude’s naked.’”

Lumit Immunoassays give Jon Campbell's lab better results with an easier workflow.

On March 13, only a few days before the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread shutdowns in Wisconsin, Jon visited the Promega headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin to meet with R&D scientists and discuss opportunities for new technologies. Over the course of a few hours, Jon and his collaborator Matthew Merrins, PhD, demonstrated how their research challenges dogma and could fundamentally change our understanding of postprandial metabolism. For five decades, the paradigm of glucose control focused on a model that positioned insulin and glucagon as diametrically opposing forces to raise or lower glycemia. As Jon states, things did not always add up.

“For years, everybody has been saying ‘Glucagon is the antithesis of insulin,’ right? Insulin is a good guy. It makes glucose come down. Glucagon is a bad guy. It makes glucose go up. And these two are in this cosmic battle against each other over the control of glycemia. Well, we asked, ‘Why do the beta cells that secrete insulin have glucagon receptors?’ And as you follow the breadcrumbs, you find that these two things are actually working in cooperation. Without that cooperation, the whole thing falls apart,” Jon says.

The Incretin Effect

In addition to exploring the complex biology of glucagon, Jon’s lab studies the Incretin Effect, a mechanism by which the gut influences the secretion of insulin in the pancreas. Past research revealed that rises in blood-glucose matched closely whether glucose was administered orally or intravenously. However, the amount of insulin secreted was 3—4 times higher following oral intake. This is a result of the actions of GLP1 and GIP, the two major human incretins. GLP1 and GIP bind to G-protein coupled receptors in the beta cells of the pancreas to induce insulin secretion. Insulin then acts to promote glucose uptake, reducing glycemia. Many researchers believe that dysfunction of the incretin mechanisms contributes to the reduced insulin secretion seen in individuals with Type 2 diabetes.

“If we can understand the mechanisms of the incretin effect,” Jon says, “We may be able to understand the pathophysiology driving Type 2 diabetes. My hope is that people are going to realize that diabetes is not just a glucose disease. Maybe we have been looking at this too much from a glucose-centric viewpoint. Clearly, glucose is a big problem with diabetes, but it’s not just glucose. This is a metabolic disease, and in order to understand how to fix a metabolic disease, you need to look at all the metabolites and the way overall metabolism is dysregulated.”

Research on the incretin effect has already supported the development of two new classes of drugs for Type 2 diabetes: GLP1R agonists and DPP4 inhibitors (DPP4 is an enzyme that degrades GLP1).

“We collaborate with industry quite a bit, especially pharmaceuticals. We are helping them understand the mechanism of action by which their drugs may work, and that funding has allowed us to expand and grow our program a lot in our first five years. I like to bridge that line between basic and translational science—translating basic science into the clinic.”

The Search for New Technology

Jon wasn’t visiting Promega in mid-March with the goal of seeing the world before COVID-19-related travel restrictions were announced. He’s constantly looking for new collaborations in which both parties can bring something unique to the table. Jon was one of the first to try the new Lumit™ Insulin and Glucagon Immunoassays, which he says are easier to use and have produced better results in his work with glucagon than radioimmunoassays or ELISAs.

“People like Promega scientists say they have a new technology, and they’re looking for someone to try it out it in real-world situations. I don’t have that kind of technology, but I know how to apply it, so there’s a lot of value there. It’s a no-brainer to talk to people about how we can find synergy when the two of us both bring something like that to the table. For some applications, the Lumit™ assays are blowing out whatever we can do, and they’re also incredibly easy to use. So that was a significant improvement in our workflow.”

When asked what he hopes to accomplish in the next few years, Jon similarly points to innovative technology and techniques.

“We have to say, ‘What’s the next innovative step forward, and what new tools can we bring?’ We need to figure out new ways to interrogate the systems that we’re interested in. Then we can start to strip away new biology. If we ask the right question and we answer definitively, we’ll end up with three more questions. Which is great, because we’ll always have more work to do.”


Lumit™ Immunoassays provide a simple and fast alternative to conventional immunoassay methods including sandwich ELISAs and Western blots. Learn more here.

Working on diabetes research? Read more about Promega assays to measure insulin activity in real time.


Skype a Scientist While You Stay at Home

A few weeks into Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order, I saw a tweet from Sarah McAnulty, PhD, the founder and Executive Director of Skype a Scientist, proclaiming that the organization was making a big change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—they were allowing groups smaller than five people to sign up, meaning that families stuck at home during the pandemic could meet a scientist virtually in their living room.

Skype a Scientist provides an easy way to for people to meet a scientist and allows scientists to reach people from all over the world without having to leave the lab. Teachers (and now families) can choose the type of scientist that is a good fit, from computer scientists to marine biologists and everything in between. You can also request a scientist from a group that is underrepresented in STEM fields so that participants can see a scientist who looks like them or can relate to their experiences.

I learned about Skype a Scientist a few years ago after listening to an episode of the HelloPhD podcast. I remember wishing this program had existed when I was a high school science teacher, so I was ecstatic to learn it was now possible to participate and immediately filled out the online application for our family to be matched with a scientist. We received our match the next day and scheduled a call with our scientist the following week.

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Getting a PhD in Sweatpants: Guest Blog by Dr. Susanna Harris

Today’s blog is guest-written by Susanna Harris, who recently defended her PhD thesis at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


I just defended my PhD. Nearly six years of blood, sweat, and tears, most of which were cleaned up with Kimwipes while sitting at my desk in a laboratory facing out towards the UNC Chapel Hill football field. Nearly six years of work, all summed up in a handful of slides. Nearly six years of work, explained to my friends, family, and colleagues – a moment I had dreamed of since the fall of 2014.

What I hadn’t dreamed of? That I would be sitting at my small desk in the corner of my room, with no present audience aside from my snoring dogs. That there would be no dinner celebration that carried into a night of fun along Franklin Street. That, unseen by the viewers of my defense, I would be wearing sweatpants as my name changed from Ms. to Dr. Harris.

Pictured: The audience for Susanna’s thesis defense.

Why did I wear sweatpants when I could have worn literally anything in my closet? Because I think it’s hilarious. I believe this situation will end and we will walk away with memories and lessons learned from an extremely difficult time in the history of the world. I want to walk away with one more ridiculous story to add to a long list of “What even was that?” tales from grad school.

Working towards a PhD is hard at any time; let’s not pretend this pandemic isn’t making things even worse. I was fortunate in many ways that my advisor had already moved our laboratory to a new state in 2019, allowing me to adjust to meeting through webcams and working from home before the pandemic changed the lives of all North Carolinians. This has given me a unique perspective to tease out which problems come from distance working and which are the result of Safer-At-Home orders. Based on my experiences, here are a few tips, tricks, and words of warning.

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Conferences in the time of COVID-19

Travel and event restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many scientific conferences to be canceled, delayed or adapted into virtual events. These conferences include the Society of Toxicology (SOT), American Association of Cancer Researchers (AACR), Experimental Biology (EB) and the BioPharmaceutical Emerging Best Practices Association (BEBPA) Bioassay Conference, among many others. For the most up-to-date information, we recommend checking with the hosts of each conference.

These cancellations have disrupted many scientists’ plans to present research, engage with potential collaborators and interact with vendors. At Promega, we’re sensitive to the lost opportunities and are currently exploring potential ways to create these experiences despite so many conferences being canceled.

“We want people to be able to talk directly with us and have the same warm feeling as a close conversation at a conference, but without being face to face,” says Allison Suchon, Promega Tradeshow Manager. “We’re looking at different options to have that same conference feeling but without the show going on around us.”

To make the most of our time while we build solutions, we asked Promega scientists for tips on staying connected and informed when you can’t go to conferences. Here are some ideas we gathered.

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The Art of Being a Field Scientist

Today’s article is written by guest blogger Vince Debes, this year’s winner of the Promega Art Contest for Creative Scientists. He will be starting a Master of Science program in Geological Sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University this fall.

Grand Tetons at night

It’s incredible how seemingly insignificant actions can lead to major events years down the road. When my partner and I were testing out our new camera shutter remotes in the Grand Tetons on the way to do field work in Yellowstone, I never imagined an image we captured would lead to a grand prize in the Promega Art Contest for Creative Scientists. The four-minute-long exposure was taken at midnight with a full moon and shows the ghostly, almost imperceptible, movements of Colter Bay marina vessels against a backdrop of trailing stars and the stolid Tetons.

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A Quick Guide To Finding That Next Step After A Post-Doc

On February 13, 2020, a group of post-docs from the University of Wisconsin – Madison had the opportunity to spend a day at the Promega headquarters in Fitchburg, WI. Throughout the day, the group heard from a list of speakers including Tom Livelli, VP of Life Sciences, and representatives from Technical Services, Sales, R&D and Marketing. The day concluded with a tour of the Feynman Manufacturing Center, where attendees saw production and packing lines, as well as training and QC labs.

Promega employees and UW Post-Docs having lunch

On February 13, 2020, a group of post-docs from the University of Wisconsin – Madison had the opportunity to spend a day at the Promega headquarters in Fitchburg, WI. Throughout the day, the group heard from a list of speakers including Tom Livelli, VP of Life Sciences, and representatives from Technical Services, Sales, R&D and Marketing. The day concluded with a tour of the Feynman Manufacturing Center, where attendees saw production and packing lines, as well as training and QC labs.

“It’s always encouraging as a scientist to hear about how each person is different and how they’ve had different twists and turns,” says Alexa Heaton, a post-doc studying immunotherapy interactions in mice. “It’s great to hear from such a range of people and the different job types I could consider.”

To recap the day, we’ve captured a few of the biggest takeaways below.

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From Forensic Analysis to Taco Thursday: My Experience as a Promega Intern

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Kali Denis, an intern in our scientific applications group. You’ll find her bio at the end of the article.

A few months ago, I stood in front of my freezer at home, holding a bag with a tube full of gum that I chewed. The freezer was overflowing, as we had just done our weekly grocery shopping, so I ended up stuffing the bag next to some frozen fish sticks. I wondered how long it would take for one of my roommates to question just exactly what this gross-looking bag was doing in our freezer. I doubt they would have ever guessed that it was for a project at my internship!

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Promega Scientists Helping Researchers and Students at the Marine Biological Laboratory

This summer, I had the opportunity to go to the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. MBL was founded in 1888 as an institution that focuses on research and education. Woods Hole is located on Cape Cod and has rich biodiversity that is the focus of the resident researchers and the many others that travel there each summer. It was here that new model organisms were discovered, allowing significant advancement in various fields. For example, squid have large axons that allowed researchers to expand our knowledge of neurons.

Over 500 scientists from over 300 institutions in over 30 countries come to MBL each year as trainees1. There are 19 advanced research training courses for pre-and post-doctoral scientists in development, reproduction, cell physiology, microbiology, infectious disease, neuroscience, and microscopy. Faculty that teach the courses are leaders in their respective fields. In addition, MBL has a neuro-physiology fellowship program through the Grass Foundation that allows early-stage researchers to come to MBL for 14 weeks to do research.

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Tales from the Trenches: Career Growth in Biotechnology

Building a successful career in the biotechnology industry is really just a series of transitions from one role to another. But the devil is in the details—when to make a change, how to create opportunities and who can be your champion as you pivot. So how do you navigate these factors to keep your career goals on course?

Bob Weiland answers a question posed by Michele Smith at the MS Biotech Alumni Symposium.

I recently attended a symposium (presented by the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program, of which I’m an alum) that addressed this topic through the lens of one individual with a storied career in the industry. Bob Weiland currently serves on the Board of Directors for CymaBay Therapeutics. He has held various roles, from sales and marketing to operations and strategy, within large, established companies (Abbot, Baxter, Takeda) and smaller ones (Pacira Pharmacueticals). He drew on this wide-ranging experience to provide advice to professionals at all career stages.

Bob began the talk by declaring that there will be points in your career when you reach a “hard spot” and will need to transition, whether to a new role, company or even industry, to meet your career goals. He suggested a good starting point is simply to be thinking about making a change. But in the same breath he emphasized, “What are you doing about it?” He identified four distinct actions that you can take to ensure role changes and career transitions support your professional growth and development.

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Celebrating and Supporting Women in STEM for Science-a-thon

Photo via Mariel Mohns

During the week of October 14-18, scientists and science communicators around the world came together for a social media celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Science-a-thon has its roots in Madison, WI, where Tracey Holloway (a professor at UW-Madison) had the idea to raise money to support organizations that advance the careers of women in STEM fields.

This year, Science-a-thon participants collectively raised over $14,500 for three partner charities: the Earth Science Women’s Network, Girls Who Code, and the Society of Women Engineers.

We at Promega were proud to be an active supporter of the event through sponsorship and participation. This year, we had 5 employees share their #dayofscience through daily Instagram story takeovers, as well as their personal social media accounts to give followers a glimpse of #lifeatpromega.

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