In the Division, we are a group of scientists (over 10, from basic to clinical) exploring a range of metabolic diseases and pathways. We have a newly funded T32 training grant which will provide support for graduate students within the Division. We have started a new mentoring program that will ensure success for our students in graduate school, including help with presentations, scientific writing and career planning. Importantly, to support our graduate students, we focus on maintaining a supportive and collaborative environment to ensure success but also make it an enjoyable period of time. As the leader of the division, I have a track record of graduate students finishing on time (duration between 4-5.5 years) and with a productive publication record. My laboratory is funded by 2R01s, VA merit, U01, and other foundational grants. With other laboratories in the division, multiple collaborations exist, which are providing some exciting new avenues of research. Our groups use the most cutting-edge technologies, from metabolic cages, organ perifusion systems, in vivo dynamic glucose testing, and optogenetics methods in brain stimulation. Please contact current and former lab members if want to learn more, names below. In the lab, projects are in a variety of stages, that will allow students to pick projects that suit their career goals and timelines. Multiple directions or these projects exist, from basic scientific discovery, to translational studies and also drug development pathways.
Project 1: We have helped identify two novel G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), free fatty acid receptor-2 and -3 (FFA2 and FFA3), that have a role in how pancreatic islets adapt by increasing insulin secretion and production. Because they are expressed in other tissue besides pancreatic beta cells, including adipocytes and the GI tract, we are using both global and conditional mouse models to examine the role of these receptors in other tissues. Moreover, the ligands for both these receptors are short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), and SCFAs are derived from gut microbial fermentation of difficult to digest food (such as fiber). In a variety of projects, we are exploring the role of SCFAs in metabolic diseases, their relationship to the gut microbiota, and the cross-talk between the gut microbiota and metabolism.
Project 2: Recently, we helped discover a novel gene, HKDC1, involved in glucose regulation during pregnancy. We have now shown that HKDC1 encodes a fifth hexokinase, challenging the dogma in the field that only 4 hexokinases exist. We are continuing our exploration of this novel genetic findings, through genetic mouse models, observing how this gene contributes to whole body glucose and energy homeostasis, and uncovering novel roles in liver regeneration and cancer biology.
Please contact current (Kristen Lednovich, [email protected] and Kai Xu, [email protected] ) and former lab members (Carrie Pusec, [email protected] and Stephanie Villa, [email protected]) if want to learn more.