Personal profile


Dr Michael Houghton is an emerging early career researcher with a background in cell metabolism, biochemistry and molecular nutrition. His PhD, completed in 2017 under the supervision of Prof Gary Williamson at the University of Leeds, UK, was funded by a prestigious European Research Council Advanced Grant (‘POLYTRUE?’), the only one awarded in food and nutrition. His research focused on the effects and mechanisms of dietary (poly)phenols in relation to metabolic disease risk factors. He advanced our understanding of how quercetin protects hepatic cells from metabolic stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, characterised and developed a human skeletal muscle cell model for use in metabolism research, and exploited this model to investigate the influence of gut microbiome catabolites on insulin signalling and glucose uptake/metabolism, demonstrating a novel link between diet, the microbiome and energy source utilisation. These data were used to help secure funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (UK), which funded his first post-doctoral position in the same lab.

Michael arrived at Monash in June 2019 to help establish a new molecular nutrition lab in the Department. His postdoctoral research, under the continued supervision of Prof Williamson, is still focused on the association between biologically active dietary components, metabolism and chronic disease. He is the Departmental expert in cell culture, ion chromatography, droplet digital PCR, automated Westerns, advanced plate reader assays and respirometry. His work on how quercetin and related compounds modulate metabolism in vitro, with translatable effects in vivo, continues. He has demonstrated the effects of quercetin and ferulic acid on lipid storage and metabolism in human adipocytes, utilising transcriptomics and metabolomics to reveal a PPARα/RXRα-dependent mechanism. He has developed novel chromatographic methods for the highly specific, sensitive and accurate quantification of carbohydrates in cells and culture media, in vitro assays, foods and beverages, blood and urine. These have been used to measure sugars and oligosaccharides in amylase and glucosidase inhibition assays, revising and advancing our knowledge on the inhibitory and complexation mechanisms of other nutrients with carbohydrates in the gut. The methods are also being exploited for collaborative studies requiring the quantification of sugars for human intervention studies, including meal composition and in post-prandial plasma and urine, and for in vitro glucose uptake assays in skeletal muscle for the screening of potential diabetes therapeutics.

When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, Michael led urgent in vitro mechanistic work investigating potential prophylactic compounds against the SARS-CoV-2 infection. He characterised a suitable lung epithelial cell model in a physiologically-relevant air-liquid interface, and others including nasal and gut cells, in order to screen the effects of treatments on the expression of the key coronavirus entry proteins, and has collaborated with The Peter Doherty Institute to test promising candidates on SARS-CoV-2 infectivity.

In addition to his research, Michael lectures for several BSc and MSc units (with 100% overall student satisfaction (SETU) so far), has co-supervised an Honours student to completion and is currently supervising a PhD student. He chairs the multi-institutional, interdisciplinary Monash Health Translation Precinct ECR Committee and is a member of the Faculty ECR Steering Committee. He has presented his work at three international conferences, been invited to speak at an international respirometry workshop, conceived and organised three student conferences, and is a certified phlebotomist.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Food Biochemistry, Phd, The chronic effects of dietary (poly)phenols on mitochondrial dysfunction and glucose uptake in cellular models of the liver and skeletal muscle., University of Leeds

1 Oct 201320 Nov 2017

Award Date: 20 Nov 2017

Biochemistry, BSc (Hons), Lancaster University

1 Oct 200713 Jul 2010

Award Date: 13 Jul 2010

Research area keywords

  • Molecular Nutrition
  • Diet and Health
  • Polyphenols
  • Carbohydrates
  • Metabolism
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cell Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Mitochondria
  • Glycaemic control
  • Cell Metabolism
  • Sugar
  • Chronic diseases
  • COVID-19

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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