Terry Unterman, MD
Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Biophysics
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism
What was your training path?
A Philosophy major as an undergrad, my first real experience took place as a second year medical student at Duke Medical School, where I completed an honors research curriculum in Differentiation (gene regulation) and Growth. I loved the opportunity to read broadly and deeply, to explore new ideas and to think of ways to test them in an experimental setting. Following training in Internal Medicine, I wanted to reengage with research and chose Endocrinology as a field where I could explore my interests in cellular regulation, metabolism, nutrition and health. Having the time to develop skills to carry out rigorous studies firsthand in a laboratory setting was invaluable to me as a Fellow in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, and prepared me to incorporate new technologies into my research in the years to come.
What are your research interests?
My studies focus on the regulation of gene expression and metabolism in diabetes and other disorders of metabolism (malnutrition, obesity). Previous studies in my lab focused on identifying specific mechanisms and pathways mediating effects of insulin on gene expression in the liver – including the identification of the insulin/Akt/FoxO pathway. Current studies are exploring the role of regulatory networks involved in integrating the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism in the liver and in other tissues, focusing on the role of FoxO transcription factors in this context.
How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
A mentor once told me, “The best physicians think physiologically”, and I believe this is true. While treating a patient involves much more than just treating a “diagnosis”, my experience in research (thinking physiologically/mechanistically) informs how I approach patient care: understanding the pathophysiology of a disease guides my treatment of it. Conversely, my experience in taking care of patients reminds me of the limits of our knowledge and understanding, and the importance of continued research.
What do you think is special about UIC?
I am still working at my first job – as a member of the faculty in the Department of Medicine (with adjunct appointments in the Departments of Physiology and Biophysics and Kinesiology and Nutrition) at UIC. While I have had opportunities to move to other medical schools in Chicago and beyond, I have always made the choice to stay where I am. UIC has provided an outstanding environment for my career. The commitment to excellence in research, education and clinical care in the Department of Medicine has been consistent. Also, as a physician-scientist, I have benefitted greatly from the availability of many excellent researchers in other departments and colleges at UIC and in the Chicagoland area. Medicine and research both require continuous learning (which is also one of the great joys of what we do), and UIC has provided a terrific home base for supporting my research and career.