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Faculty Mentors

The mentors in the NUPEDHA program provide leadership to trainees. The mentorship committee is composed of senior investigators who have promoted research relevant to the NUPEDHA mission. Each member brings a different background and a unique set of experiences.


 Ronald Ackermann, MD, MPH

Professor, General Internal Medicine & Geriatrics

Dr. Ackermann's primary expertise is in the development and evaluation of healthcare-community partnerships to implement evidence-based health promotion, preventive, and chronic disease management services for adults. During the past decade, he has designed and directed a series of research studies focused on the translation, implementation, and evaluation of the Diabetes Prevention Program and Look AHEAD lifestyle interventions involving partnerships among busy healthcare providers and leading community organizations, such as the YMCA. In his role as Director of the Center for Community Health of the Northwestern University Institute for Public Health and Medicine, he has organized and participated in several large initiatives involving public-private partnerships to evaluate emerging policy questions, translate clinical trials, and address community health priorities. In this role, he is accountable for ensuring the success of other Northwestern University investigators and trainees who aim to engage primary care providers, community organizations, public health leaders, and patients in the design of research to improve health and healthcare.

 Grant Barish, MD
Assistant Professor of Endocrinology

The major focus of research in the Barish lab is to discover the epigenomic and transcriptional basis of metabolism and inflammation. Our recent work has helped to reveal the genomic architecture for transcriptional regulation in innate immunity. Surprisingly, while nodes of control are often at significant linear distance from regulated genes, the interplay between transcriptional activators and repressors is highly proximate, occurring at shared nucleosomal domains. Moreover, we identified a powerful role for the BCL6 transcriptional repressor in macrophage quiescence and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Currently, we are exploring the impact of activator?repressor interactions on enhancer function and transcription, the signal-dependent control of repression, and the functional impact of transcriptional activators and repressors in cardio-metabolic disease. To these ends, we use a variety of genetic, molecular, next-generation sequencing, and biochemical methods as well as physiological models. We anticipate that these studies will provide insight into the underlying balance of transcription and its implications for the development and progression of disease.

 Joseph T. Bass, MD, PhD

Professor & Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism & Molecular Medicine

The major focus of research in the Bass laboratory is on the molecular links between neural circuits coordinating sleep, wakefulness and feeding behavior, with systems important in peripheral fuel utilization, including the insulin-signaling pathway. The major overarching theme of his research is to dissect transcriptional and posttranslational interactions between circadian and metabolic gene networks in the development of diabetes and obesity. These studies are an outgrowth of his discovery that mutation of the gene encoding the transcription factor CLOCK, present within both brain and in peripheral metabolic tissues, leads to altered sleep, feeding activity, obesity and diabetes. Projects in the laboratory now exploit both genetic and biochemical methods to pinpoint the cell and molecular basis for co-regulation of circadian, sleep and metabolic pathways within specific cells of hypothalamus, and peripheral metabolic tissues. This approach has elucidated a novel function for the clock gene network in glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (within Islets of Langerhans) and in control of feeding (in the POMC neuron). He has also pursued a series of biochemical analyses leading to the discovery that clock gene activators control endogenous NAD biosynthesis. Extensions of this work include analysis of altered protein acetylation within both nuclei and mitochondria of circadian mutants.

 Daniel Batlle, MD
Professor, Nephrology and Hypertension

Daniel Batlle's clinical and research interests include acid-base disturbances, electrolyte disorders, hypertension, and diabetic nephropathy. Bench research currently involves the study of the renin angiotensin system and enzymes that degrade angiotensin 2 such as ACE2 and its potential therapeutic use.

 Serdar Bulun, MD

Professor & Chair, Obstetrics & Gynecology and Chief, Division of Reproductive Biology Research

The Bulun laboratory focuses on the transcriptional mechanisms responsible for aromatase overexpression and estrogen production in peripheral tissues. These studies include investigation of aberrant expression of transcription factors involved in activation of steroidogenic and COX-2 genes in uterine stromal cells. Dr. Bulun’s team also studies the role of progesterone receptor isoforms in the clinically observed resistance to progesterone action in peripheral tissues. Finally, his group investigates epithelial-stromal interactions leading to overexpression of COX-2.

 Richard T. D'Aquila, MD

Howard Taylor Ricketts, MD, Professor; Associate Vice President of Research

Dr. D'Aquila studies of HIV persistence aim to develop a functional cure. This includes discovery of approaches to modulate cell proteins such as APOBEC3s, and translation to proof-of-concept clinical trials.

 Amani Fawzi, MD
Professor, Ophthalmology

Dr. Fawzi's research involves translational approaches to age related macular degeneration and ischemic retinal diseases with a special focus on functional retinal imaging and image guided interventions.

 Alfred L. George, Jr., MD
Professor and Chair, Pharmacology

Dr. George's research program is focused on the structure, function, pharmacology, and molecular genetics of ion channels. His laboratory has contributed greatly to understanding the mechanisms by which ion channel mutations cause a variety of inherited disorders of membrane excitability including congenital cardiac arrhythmia susceptibility and epilepsy. These basic and translational investigations have provided many opportunities to investigate the relationship between structure and function in ion channels and have helped establish important genotype-phenotype correlations for several human diseases and certain animal models. We were first to elucidate the functional consequences of an ion channel mutation linked to an inherited cardiac arrhythmia (Long-QT Syndrome). This discovery contributed greatly to understanding arrhythmia susceptibility in the disease and inspired use of drugs targeting persistent sodium current as a therapeutic strategy. Recently, the use of exome sequencing enabled us to discover human calmodulin mutations in congenital arrhythmia syndromes. Our studies of the molecular basis for genetic epilepsy have revealed new targets for antiepileptic drug development.

 Richard Green, MD

Professor, Gastroenterology & Hepatology

The Green laboratory focuses on the molecular mechanisms of hepatic lipid metabolism and mechanisms of cellular injury. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the United States, and accounts for the majority of cryptogenic cirrhosis. NASH is associated with the metabolic syndrome, which includes insulin resistance, obesity, and dyslipidemia, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, recent evidence indicates that there is a strong genetic component for the susceptibility and progression of steatohepatitis. NASH is a polygenic disease, and Quantitative Trait Loci analysis is a widely utilized genetic technique that can be applied to murine models in order to determine the chromosomal loci responsible for the expression of complex traits and polygenic diseases. In addition, mechanistic studies focus on hepatic gene expression and the role of nuclear receptors in regulating hepatic injury and fibrosis.

 William Grobman, MD
Adjunct Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology (Maternal Fetal Medicine)

Dr. Grobman studies blood group isoimmunization, fetal anomaly, hypertension in pregnancy, and prenatal diagnosis

 M. Geoffrey Hayes, PhD

Associate Professor, Endocrinology, Metabolism & Molecular Medicine

Dr. Hayes's research interests lie in both evolutionary population genetics and genetic epidemiology. The evolutionary population genetic projects include the examination of genetic profiles of prehistoric and contemporary populations from the North American Arctic and Subarctic to better understand human population histories in these regions. His genetic epidemiology projects involve the identification of genetic risk factors underlying common, complex genetic traits and diseases such as diabetes and related metabolic and cardiovascular traits, as well as the development of new methods to conduct such studies. Dr. Hayes's particular specialty in genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics is the design and implementation of genome-wide association studies.

 Congcong He, MD
Assistant Professor, Cell and Developmental Biology

The research in Dr. He's lab is centered on intracellular quality control mediated by autophagy ("self-eating"), a lysosomal degradation pathway essential for nutrient recycling, cellular maintenance and physiological function. Autophagy is induced by stress conditions such as fasting and exercise, and allows cells to adapt to changing nutrient and energy demands through protein catabolism. Our interest focuses on the roles and mechanisms of autophagy in the regulation of metabolism and in the pathogenesis of metabolic and neurological disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, neurodegeneration, and drug abuse. Malfunction of autophagy is implicated in a variety of diseases, such as metabolic disorders, neurodegeneration, cancer, infection and aging; conversely, we have shown that upregulation of autophagy mediates exercise-induced metabolic benefits and protects Alzheimer’s mice from neurodegeneration. We are also interested in demonstrating how the autophagy machinery recognizes various cargos for catabolic metabolism, including aggregate-prone proteins, secretory proteins and membrane receptors, in metabolic organs and in different neuronal cell types in the brain, and studying how such degradation leads to metabolic and behavioral alterations.

 Tamara Isakova, MD

Associate Professor, Nephrology & Hypertension

Dr. Isakova’s investigates the impact of phosphate and fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23) reduction strategies on bone and mineral metabolism and on intermediate cardiovascular and renal end points in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), including diabetic nephropathy. She is a Co-I in the NIDDK-funded U01 Consortium on Pilot Studies in CKD and has been actively involved in the development of the protocol for the COMBINE (CKD Optimal Management with Binders and Nicotinamide) Study.

 Jami Josefson, MD, MS
Associate Professor, Endocrinology, Department of Pediatrics

Dr. Josefson studies the developmental origins of metabolic disease, including the near- and long-term outcomes of children exposed to an adverse maternal metabolic environment including obesity and hyperglycemia. The overarching goal of her research program is to reduce the public health burden of childhood obesity and associated metabolic disease by identifying high risk children so that interventions can be facilitated. Current projects include understanding the relative contributions of genetics, epigenetics and metabolic pregnancy environment as risk factors in the development of childhood obesity and metabolic disease.

 Namratha Kandula, MD, MPH

Associate Professor, General Internal Medicine & Geriatrics

Dr. Kandula’s primary research interests are to: 1) eliminate health disparities by conducting translational, community-driven research; 2) inform health care system delivery of prevention that is patient and community-centered. She currently directs an interdisciplinary research program to understand the causes of racial/ethnic disparities in cardiometabolic diseases and to develop interventions that address these disparities. Her research program addresses a weakness noted at the time of the last competitive renewal that our training program lacked opportunities for primary care/community based research.

 William Lowe, Jr., MD

Professor, Endocrinology, Metabolism & Molecular Medicine

The Lowe laboratory in collaboration with the Kaufman laboratory and other investigators in Materials Science, and Biological and Chemical Engineering is seeking to develop novel approaches to enhance islet engraftment and function post-transplant as described above. Efforts are now under way to take advantage of the ability of these scaffolds to release bioactive molecules, either DNA or peptides, as a means to enhance the microenvironment of the transplanted islets and, thus, optimize the survival and revascularization of transplanted islets and, possibly, stimulate islet cell proliferation. The Lowe lab is seeking to develop approaches to differentiate embryonic stem cells into insulin-secreting cells.

A second interest of the Lowe laboratory is the interaction between the intrauterine environment and genetics in determining size at birth as well as genetic determinants of maternal metabolism. To address this interest, he, in collaboration with others at NU, is using DNA and phenotype information from ~16,000 mothers and their babies who participated in the Hyperglycemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes (HAPO) Study. One of the underlying hypotheses being examined is that genetic variants that impact upon insulin sensitivity or secretion when present in mother and/or fetus result in variation in fetal growth. Planning has also been initiated to follow up a subset of the HAPO mothers and babies to examine the hypothesis that maternal glucose levels during pregnancy are positively correlated with measures of adiposity, lipidemia, glycemia, and BP during childhood.

 Aline Martin, PhD
Associate Professor, Nephrology and Hypertension

Dr. Martin's research focuses on the regulation of bone and mineral metabolism. The general focus of her lab is the regulation of osteocyte-derived molecules and their impact on bone, renal and cardiac health. She is particularly interested in the bone ECM protein DMP1 and its role in diseases associated with excessive production of the skeletal hormone FGF23. Her lab recently established the prevention of FGF23-associated cardiac hypertrophy by improving DMP1 signaling in mice with chronic kidney disease (CKD) resulting in improved lifespan.

 Elizabeth McNally, MD, PhD

Elizabeth J. Ward Professor and Director, Center for Genetic Medicine; Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

As a physician and scientist, Dr. McNally is interested in bringing the benefits of research discovery to the practice of medicine. She is a human geneticist and cardiologist. Her clinical and research interests are in the genetics of cardiovascular and neuromuscular disorders. McNally Lab studies genetic mechanisms responsible for inherited human diseases including heart failure, cardiomyopathy, muscular dystrophy, arrhythmias, aortic aneurysms. Working with individuals and families, they are defining the genetic mutations that cause these disorders. By establishing models for these disorders, they can now begin to develop and test new therapies, including genetic correction and gene editing.

 Matthew O'Brien, MD
Associate Professor, General Internal Medicine & Epidemiology

Dr. O'Brien's work aims to eliminate health disparities in U.S. Latinos by examining the underlying causes and developing interventions to address them. Since 2007, he and his colleagues have focused on community health workers as a culturally-competent workforce to promote health and prevent disease in this population. Partnered closely with community-based organizations, they have developed and tested community health worker programs to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and most recently diabetes. They conduct qualitative and epidemiologic studies to identify intervention targets in Latinos and develop our intervention approaches. Through advocacy and research efforts, they are also working to integrate community-based health resources with more traditional healthcare services and settings.

 Clara Bien Peek, PhD
Assistant Professor, Endocrinology & Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

Epidemiological and genetic studies have shown that disruption of the circadian clock is a factor in multiple pathologies, including metabolic disease, myopathy, and cancer. Our laboratory aims to uncover the physiological impact of the circadian clock on nutrient-responsive regulatory pathways, including oxygen-sensing transcriptional networks. Indeed, we have recently identified a key connection between skeletal muscle clocks and the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway, which drives circadian control of the hypoxic response and glucose metabolism. The goal of our laboratory is to understand the interplay between hypoxic and circadian transcriptional pathways both at the genomic and nutrient-signaling levels, and to apply these findings to understand the role of circadian clocks in metabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes and cancer.

 Susan Quaggin, MD

Professor & Chief, Division of Nephrology

The research program of Dr. Quaggin's laboratory uses complementary approaches of gene targeting and phenotype-driven screens in mice to identify novel interactions and genes in kidney and vascular development and disease with an ultimate goal to identify targets for therapeutic intervention. She has been a Principal Investigator at the University of Toronto since 1997. She has substantial experience in supervising, training and mentoring graduate trainees, basic science and clinical post-doctoral fellows and has been greatly invested in nurturing the development of young physician-scientists and graduate students.

 Bonnie Spring, PhD
Professor, Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My laboratory conducts research on behavioral risk factors for chronic disease (obesity, poor quality diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use). We also develop, optimize, and evaluate cutting-edge technology-supported interventions to support self-regulation and healthy behavior change. Finally, we create on-line learning tools to support skill mastery in evidence-based practice and team science.

 Margrit Urbanek, PhD

Associate Professor, Endocrinology, Metabolism & Molecular Medicine

Dr. Urbanek's research focuses on the identification of susceptibility genes for complex diseases. Her approach to this research is to use family based gene-mapping techniques and population based association studies in conjunction with molecular techniques to identify and verify genes and pathways contributing to the pathogenesis of genetically complex diseases. Specifically, she is carrying out studies to identify susceptibility genes for PCOS that map to Chr19p3.13. She has previously shown that this region shows linkage and association with PCOS in a large set of families. Other projects focus on identifying candidate genes for gestational diabetes and glycemic control during pregnancy, and identifying genetic variation contributing to extreme obesity.

 Douglas Vaughan, MD

Irving S. Cutter Professor, Cardiology and Chair, Department of Medicine

Dr. Vaughan’s research efforts focus on the problems of blood coagulation and tissue repair associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD). His multidisciplinary team studies the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to the expression of proteolytic enzymes and enzyme inhibitors involved in processes including tissue remodeling and blood clot dissolution .The team uses genetically altered mice to investigate components of this clot-disrupting system in vascular disease. Finally, the group participates in studies using animal models of vascular disease to test small molecule drugs. These studies will guide the efforts test new agents for treating imbalances of tissue remodeling and blood clotting.

 Linda Van Horn, MD
Professor Emeritus, Preventative Medicine (Nutrition)

Her research experience includes the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT), the study of Cardiovascular Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA), the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (SOL) and its ancillary SOL Youth Study. As Principal Investigator she served on several multi-center collaborative trials, including the Diet Intervention Study in Children (DISC), the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and currently the International Study of Macro/Micro Nutrient Intake and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP). She is also studying DASH diet intervention among the offspring of mothers with overweight/obesity recruited from MOMFIT, a randomized clinical trial preventing excessive gestational weight gain.

 Amisha Wallia, MD
Associate Professor, Endocrinology & Epidemiology

My clinical research is focused on the disease state of diabetes mellitus, with application to high risk populations such as solid organ transplant patients. My research portfolio includes retrospective cohort studies, small and large clinical trials and intervention studies, and quantitative research methods examining patient safety and quality improvement.


 Abel N. Kho, MD

Associate Professor, General Internal Medicine & Geriatrics; Biomedical Informatics, Department of Preventive Medicine

Center for Healthcare Studies, IPHAM, FSM). Dr. Kho's research group investigates the application of geographic information systems and large dataset driven decision support, including the creation of electronic networks spanning multiple institutions. One of his electronic networks tracks over 11,000 patients with drug resistant infections in the region and provides secure real-time admission alerts to infection control providers. He currently leads the development of the PCORI-funded Chicago Area Patient Centered Outcomes Research Network (CAPriCORN) distributed query infrastructure.

 Milan Mrksich, PhD

Professor, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry and Cell and Molecular Biology

Research in the Mrksich Group emphasizes the design and preparation of surfaces for applications in the basic and applied biological sciences. One major theme uses a chemical approach to prepare two-and three- dimensional materials that serve as well-defined mimics of the extracellular matrix and which are used to understand the roles for distinct ligand-receptor interactions in regulating cellular processes. A second major theme develops high throughput assay formats based on the SAMDI label-free mass spectrometry method to assay biochemical function. These projects have evolved from my graduate training as a bioorganic chemist at Caltech and as a surface chemist while doing my postdoc at Harvard. Our program emphasizes the molecular design and synthesis of biologically active surfaces and is described in more than 120 papers during my independent career and by the placement of trainees in independent positions in academia, industry and related fields.

 Denise Scholtens, MD

Professor, Preventative Medicine (Biostatistics) & Neurological Surgery

Dr. Scholtens is interested in the design and conduct of multicenter, prospective observational studies and clinical trials and serves as the data coordinating center director and lead statistician for multiple large-scale, ongoing studies. She is particularly interested in the integration of high-dimensional data analyses into these settings.

 Justin Starren, MD, PhD

Associate Professor and Chief, Biomedical Informatics, Department of Preventive Medicine

Dr. Starren’s research has focused on the development of informatics solutions that push the boundaries of what is possible with current hardware and software. An early example was the development of 3D nuclear cardiology visualization software. Most recently, his research has focused on the big data challenges of integrating genomic and clinical data for personalized clinical decision support. His research focuses on the integration of genomic, and other large data sources, into Electronic Health Records.

Mentors in Training

 Lisa Beutler, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Endocrinology

Dr. Beutler's goal is to understand how the gut and the brain communicate with each other to maintain body weight, and how this goes awry in diseases such as obesity. To accomplish this, her lab uses a variety of techniques including optogenetics and calcium imaging in genetically modified mice. Projects in the lab focus both on how information about nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract are transmitted to the brain and how the brain regulates gastrointestinal tract function to optimize digestion and metabolism.