Division of Molecular Diabetes Research
The Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, directed by Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., is at the forefront of research on the complications of diabetes and was the first to study epigenetic changes in diabetic complications.
Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., directs the Division
of Molecular Diabetes Research.

Research leading to new therapies

Basic science research in molecular biology, biochemistry and immunology provides the foundation that drives the development of new therapies for diabetes and related complications. City of Hope scientists in this division are performing cutting-edge research in these areas.

Battling the complications of diabetes

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and a significant risk factor for the development of vascular complications like atherosclerosis. Our researchers are working to determine molecular mechanisms and factors mediating these complications and to develop strategies to prevent and reverse these complications. The researchers' study of atherosclerosis and kidney disease includes both diabetic animal models and humans.

Scientists in this division are examining the molecular links between diabetes, obesity, metabolism, cancer and aging, including the role of various nuclear receptors.

Gene and cell-based therapies

Translational approaches using small molecules are also being investigated. Researchers are using potential gene therapy and RNA interference translational approaches to inhibit key genes associated with diabetic complications. They are also developing synthetic small molecules to target genes that promote obesity and related metabolic changes.

Our researchers have identified a molecular link between physical activity and insulin sensitivity. They are using animal models to characterize key mechanisms in exercise's effects on skeletal muscle's energy metabolism and growth.

In addition, our researchers are performing important studies to develop novel methods to induce immune tolerance for the treatment of type 1 diabetes and also identify new cellular targets that can lead to cell-based therapies for diabetes. The results of these studies with immune cells can lead to more effective approaches in the treatment diabetes and to improved success of islet-cell transplantation.
Our approach

Overall, this division within the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Research uses several state-of-the-art computational and systems biology data-analysis methods; genomic and epigenomic profiling approaches; novel transgenic mouse models; and translational approaches with small molecules, antibody and cell-based therapies in animal models and humans in its quest to advance the field of diabetes research.

The division's investigators also work closely with the clinical researchers in the Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism as well as other multidisciplinary teams throughout City of Hope.
Each year the City of Hope hosts a meeting involving a consortium of laboratories in the Southern California region with a shared interest in related fields of gene regulation and nuclear receptor function and mechanism.  Topics span an array of biological area, including development, metabolism, diabetes, and cancer.
The MoLAR meeting provides a venue for investigators and scientists, post-doctoral fellows and graduate trainees to present progress on current research projects in their laboratories.  The agenda includes an invited keynote speaker with the rest of the meeting left for participating laboratories to feature their work in short talks (15-25 minutes in length).  The gathering aims to provide a local, small and collegial environment to discuss projects, interact and foster collaborations between laboratories.

Team members
Rama Natarajan , Ph.D., F.A.H.A., F.A.S.N. - division director and professor
Identification of the molecular mechanisms underlying the accelerated cardiovascular and renal disease observed in diabetic patients and in obese subjects; role of epigenetics, microRNAs and other non-coding  RNAs; and inflammatory responses in islet destruction
Wendong Huang , Ph.D. - associate professor
Genetic and epigenetic regulation of diabetes; stem cell and drug development for diabetes
Janice Huss , Ph.D. – associate professor
Characterization of transcriptional mechanisms regulating skeletal muscle metabolic adaptations during growth and differentiation and in response to physiologic stress; the etiologic role of orphan nuclear receptors in obesity and type 2 diabetes
Chih-Pin Liu , Ph.D. – professor
Development of methods to induce immune tolerance; identification of novel cellular and molecular targets to improve cell-based therapy for diabetes
Defu Zeng , M.D. - professor
Induction of mixed chimerism for reversal of autoimmunity, beta cell regeneration, and transplantation immune tolerance