Research Goals

We are focused on investigating the transcriptional regulation of endocrine cell differentiation in the pancreas and the gut. Our goal is to characterize transcription factors that play a role in the pancreas and gut in order to better understand their target genes and mechanisms of transcription in developing the endocrine pancreas and enteroendocrine cells of the gut, and maintaining mature ß-cell phenotypes by regulating adult ß-cell function, survival and growth. We also explore the application of these transcription factors to human diseases such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Research Summary

Our laboratory investigates key transcription factor genes during development. Specifically, we look at how transcription factor genes interact with their targets to direct the differentiation of individual cell lineages in the endocrine pancreas and the enteroendocrine cells of the gut. Transcription factors are proteins that can activate and repress specific genes and are essential for many cellular processes. Endocrine cells secrete hormones into the bloodstream to regulate many physiological functions. The endocrine pancreas provides one of the most valuable model systems used to examine the activity of transcription factors in endocrine cells.

The pancreas is one of the many organs in our body that is involved in maintaining proper glucose homeostasis. Diabetes mellitus, one of the most common metabolic disorders, occurs when the body fails to properly regulate its own glucose levels. There are two forms of diabetes mellitus: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is also referred to as juvenile diabetes and is generally diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults It occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys ß-cells, insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes has traditionally occurred mainly in adults; however, it is becoming more common in children. It occurred when the body does not produce enough insulin, or when cells do not respond sufficiently to insulin produced by ß-cells.

Although frequent insulin injections allow a person with type 1diabetes to stay alive, this treatment does not cure the disease or prevent the development of serious complications. In order to prevent, treat and eventually cure diabetes, it is important to understand how ß-cells are formed and how proper pancreas function is maintained.