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Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

Endrocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism Research

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Meet our Research Faculty

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Zheng

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Dr. Zheng Sun

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Dr. Sun’s lab uses a multifaceted approach built on functional genomics, metabolomics, genome editing, and sophisticated animal models to address the epigenomic regulation of intermediary metabolism and neurocognition. In a recent paper in Nature Medicine, he described how the internal circadian clock in muscles regulates the diurnal oscillation between fatty acid oxidation and carbohydrate utilization. In a paper published in Nature Neuroscience, he described de novo genetic variants of the nuclear receptor corepressor genes, NCOR1/2, in pediatric patients with autism. The lab has recently received two R01 and one R21 grants from the NIH.

Sean

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Dr. Sean Hartig

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Dr. Hartig pursues the etiology of metabolic diseases and, ultimately, beneficial treatments for type 2 diabetes. His lab seeks to understand how subcutaneous white fat deposits uncouple obesity from insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The Hartig lab discovered that the non-coding RNA miR-30a protects obese mice from type 2 diabetes and its complications. A paper describing this discovery appeared in Diabetes. His lab is also interested in the endocrine and immune signals that impinge upon adipose tissue expandability and, consequently, the metabolic function of other connected peripheral organs. His lab is funded by grants from the NIH and the American Diabetes Association.

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Dr. Ha Nguyen

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The most recent recruit in the section, Dr. Nguyen came following a second fellowship in endocrine neoplasia at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. She is looking at the safety and efficacy of radio frequency ablation (RFA) in small thyroid cancer with collaboration from teams of endocrine surgery and pathology faculty. As a member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Nguyen is an active member of the Immuno-Oncology working group, where she works with the Oncology team to create a multidisciplinary program in clinical care and research endocrine complications from cancer treatment.

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Dr. Li Zhang

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Dr. Zhang is an expert of T1DM. Her laboratory is funded by grants from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and she is carrying on three major research programs. In the first project, she is trying to prevent T1DM progression with monoclonal antibodies targeting one or multiple key antigens. In the second project, she has engineered regulatory T cells using the chimeric antibody receptor-redirect T cell technique (CAR-T) and plans to test the ability of these cells to suppress the autoimmune reactions of T1DM in a spontaneous mouse model. Dr. Zhang predicts that, if successful, this project can eventually identify safe immune therapies to treat T1DM. Her third project is clinical and comprises screening monoclonal antibodies targeting a key antigen of T1DM and testing their ability to inhibit the autoimmune cells responsible for the disease.

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Dr. Dennis Villareal

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Dr. Villareal, a physician-scientist with specialty training in geriatrics and endocrinology, performed the first systematic evaluation of sarcopenic obesity, in which he discovered that frailty is common in obese older adults, despite appearing opposite of the stereotypical frail older adult. He performed the first randomized controlled trial showing that it may never be too late in life to change life-long unhealthy dietary and physical activity habits. He published two such trials in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that weight loss plus combined aerobic and resistance training are very effective in improving functional status of obese older adults. Dr. Villareal’s work shows that functional problems associated with obesity in older adults can be addressed safely through weight loss. Dr. Villareal's lab is funded by grants of the NIH and the Merit Review program of the Veterans Administration.

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Dr. Sanjay Mediwala

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Dr. Mediwala is a master clinician and deputy director of the Baylor College of Medicine Endocrine Fellowship Program. He is co-investigator with Dr. Dennis Villareal and Dr. Reina Villareal, assessing bone material strength in individuals enrolled in lifestyle and pharmacologic interventions for weight loss and hypogonadism. He also works with Dr. Madhuri Vasudevan in assessing telehealth management of diabetes and Dr. Marco Marcelli in a project studying endocrine abnormalities in a cohort of patients undergoing liver transplantation and chronic opioid treatment.

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Dr. Nalini Ram

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Dr. Ram serves in the section as a clinical educator, clinician, academic administrator, and clinical researcher. She directs a unique diabetic ketoacidosis clinic, where she sees patients previously discharged from the hospital after an episode of diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketosis-prone diabetes is one of her clinical research interests.

Massimo

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Dr. Massimo Pietropaolo

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Dr. Pietropaolo was the first scientist to discover the neuroendocrine autoantigen ICA69, a key regulator of the formation and maturation of insulin in pancreatic beta cells. He has made groundbreaking contributions to the study of adaptive immune responses directed to ICA69 and the islet autoantigen IA-2 to identify subjects at greatest risk of developing juvenile diabetes. He seeks to identify the molecular structure of immunoglobulins directed to the islet cell molecule IA-2 by targeted mass spectrometry and barcode sequencing as a tool to understand autoantibody responses in children with T1DM, and first-degree relatives of type 1 diabetic patients undergoing immunologic treatment for type 1 diabetes. Dr. Pietropaolo’s lab is funded by grants from the NIH.

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Dr. Ruchi Gaba

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Dr. Gaba is a clinical researcher who runs a ketosis prone diabetes clinic and a first-of-its-kind multidisciplinary fatty liver clinic in collaboration with the gastroenterology service, where she serves as co-investigator in several therapeutic clinical trials for the treatment and prevention of NASH.

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Susan

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Dr. Susan Samson

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Dr. Samson is a master clinician, educator and clinical researcher. She is the site principal investigator of clinical trials for pharmacologic treatment of patients with acromegaly and Cushing’s syndrome.

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Dr. Richard Cox

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Dr. Richard Cox's research focuses on the diverse roles of adipose tissue/immune cells in metabolism and energy balance with the goal of identifying new therapeutic targets for obesity and type 2 diabetes. He is studying how fat cell-derived signals impinge upon the function and metabolism of immune cells, specifically regulatory T cells (Tregs), and how Tregs modulate pro-inflammatory responses and fat metabolism in white adipose tissue. He is employing new genetic mouse models, immunophenotyping, and metabolic studies to define the fat-Treg signaling axis during chronic overnutrition.

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Dr. Reina Villareal

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Dr. Villareal is physician scientist studying the genetic determinants of gonadal steroid metabolism and bone biology. Her research has recently expanded into investigating the effect of testosterone on bone metabolism in men with impaired glucose homeostasis and in finding ways of reversing obesity-associated hypogonadism. She has funding from both the National Institutes of Health and the VA Merit Review.

Rui

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Dr. Rui Chen

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Dr. Chen is a physician-scientist who is board certified in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology. His clinical and research interests include metabolic bone disease, non-invasive fracture risk assessment, sarcopenia, and the role of circadian rhythm in metabolic disorders.

Marco

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Dr. Marco Marcelli

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Dr. Marcelli, interim chief of the section and chief of Endocrine Services at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, has been interested in androgen physiology for many years and was a member of one of the four groups that independently cloned the androgen receptor (AR) gene. He helped unraveling the molecular basis of conditions affecting AR, such as the androgen insensitivity syndromes. He is an expert on male reproductive disorders and investigated the mechanisms responsible for the transition of prostate cancer to the castration independent phenotype. He researches endocrine abnormalities occurring in men with end-stage liver diseases, traumatic brain injury and opioid addiction.

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Dr. Mandeep Bajaj

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Dr. Bajaj's research interests initiatives include clinical and translational research in pathophysiology/treatment of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, diabetes secondary to pancreatic disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and obesity and its complications.

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Dr. Rajagopal Sekhar

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Dr. Sekhar is an expert in nutrient metabolism and mitochondrial energetics. He adopted a translational approach using a combination of human and rodent studies to dissect mechanisms underlying abnormalities in mitochondrial fuel metabolism, to develop nutritional interventions to reverse these defects. He discovered and reported that the endogenous intracellular antioxidant Glutathione is critically important for optimal mitochondrial fat oxidation in rodents and that the same mechanisms are operant in elderly humans and HIV patients. Dr. Sekhar is completing clinical trials in aging and HIV where he investigated mechanisms contributing to mitochondrial impairment and its reversal in humans. He is currently funded by an R01 grant to conduct a clinical trial to investigate the metabolic basis of Alzheimer’s disease. His expertise in nutrient metabolism is reflected by several first and senior-authored and co-authored manuscripts studying abnormalities in lipid, carbohydrate and protein metabolism in humans with aging, HIV, diabetes and growth hormone deficiency. He is skilled in the use of stable isotope techniques and other metabolic tools to dissect biochemical pathways involving energy metabolism in vivo in humans and rodents.

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Dr. Ashok Balasubramanyam

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Dr. Balasubramanyam is a translational investigator in metabolism, diabetes and adipocyte biology, and a member of the Translational Metabolism Unit within the Baylor Diabetes Research Center, with a long-standing interest in unusual and emerging phenotypes of metabolic disease, including Ketosis-Prone Diabetes (KPD) and HIV-associated dyslipidemic lipodystrophy. His team has characterized novel syndromes of KPD at the clinical, biochemical, genetic and metabolic levels and has pioneered the integration of metabolomic and stable isotope kinetic approaches to specify the pathophysiology of these patients. He has a broad interest in understanding complex pathophysiology of metabolic diseases through the identification and investigation of patients with variant or unusual phenotypes. As current Director of Baylor’s Clinical Scientist Training Program, he is deeply involved in the development of physician-scientists at all levels of training, and is a mentor to numerous junior investigators. In his present role as Vice-President for Academic Integration at Baylor College of Medicine, he is involved in leading the institution’s strategy for developing a network-wide population health and precision medicine initiative, a cornerstone of which is to develop a comprehensive program for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiometabolic disease.

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