Core Faculty and Staff
1) Joel Hirschhorn, MD PhD, Director, Concordia Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Genetics
The Hirschhorn lab uses human genetics to understand the biological differences that make some people highly prone to obesity while others can successfully avoid gaining weight. Genetic studies of disease often highlight biological mechanisms for known therapies, and new gene discoveries related to obesity will point to new biological mechanisms that can guide new and better treatments. Through our leadership of the Genetic Investigation of ANthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium, a collaboration of hundreds of researchers around the world, we have identified nearly all of the common genetic differences between people that affect the risk of obesity. These discoveries have provided exciting clues to new possibilities for treatment and prevention of obesity.
Our laboratory also leads several computational projects to extract new biological insights from genetic data. We use human height and skeletal growth as a model with which to develop and refine new powerful methods. We then apply these methods to genetic results of obesity and also to other diseases, including diabetic kidney disease and sickle cell disease. We are also using metabolite profiling to simultaneously measure hundreds to thousands of small molecules in the blood of patients with obesity. This powerful method will allow us to identify compounds that predict or even contribute causally to excess weight gain.
Dr. Hirschhorn’s contributions have been recognized in multiple ways. He has received the Young Investigator and E. Mead Johnson awards from the Society of Pediatrics Research and the Norman. J. Siegel Award from the American Pediatric Society, was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Society for Human Genetics, and was elected to the Council of the American Society for Clinical Investigation.
2) Nada Kalaany, PhD, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics
The Kalaany lab is focused on identifying the mechanisms underlying the association of obesity/type 2 diabetes and cancer. Evidence for a robust correlation between systemic metabolism and cancer incidence and progression has been accumulating for over a century. This correlation has been estimated to account, in the United States, for 14% and 20% of all deaths from cancer in men and women, respectively.
Our recent work has unveiled a key role for the PTEN/PI3K pathway in determining tumor sensitivity to dietary restriction at early stages of tumor formation. Our laboratory aims at understanding how signaling pathways, such as PI3K/PTEN, influence tumor initiation and maintenance in the context of obesity and the metabolic syndrome and whether such an effect can be exploited therapeutically.
3) Nicholas Stylopoulos, MD, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics
The Stylopoulos laboratory uses many gastrointestinal weight loss surgery rodent models to study weight loss procedures (e.g., Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, gastric banding and other). These models offer a unique opportunity to unravel mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of surgery on body weight, metabolism, glucose homeostasis, inflammation and cancer.
By “reverse engineering” the mechanisms by which weight loss surgery induces weight loss, and the resolution of diabetes and other metabolic complications, we will be able to develop less invasive approaches that will utilize the same effective mechanisms without the invasiveness of surgery. Thus, we aim to eventually “bypass the bypass,” and be able to increase the number of treatment options, including less-invasive options that will allow widespread use in many categories of patients with obesity, including children and adolescents.
4) Hannah Whitley, Program Coordinator