Ph.D. Students, Professor Work To Reverse Effects of Diabetes

Dr. MoniriPh.D. students working with Associate Dean for Research and Associate Professor Dr. Nader Moniri in the College of Pharmacy are conducting a study funded by the National Institutes of Health with the long-term goal of developing a drug to reverse the effects of diabetes. According to the NIH, more than 25 million Americans have the disease.

Dr. Moniri’s research focuses on the cellular regulation of the recently discovered free-fatty acid receptor FFAR4 (also known as GPR120), which has recently been shown to reverse the effects of diabetes when activated by unsaturated fatty acids, particularly Omega-3 fatty acids. The group is investigating molecular modifications that occur on FFAR4 when it is activated. These modifications promote beneficial effects such as reversal of insulin resistance and inflammation, which when left uncontrolled can trigger type 2 diabetes.

The research team is investigating what happens, on the cellular level, to reverse the effects of the disease. “We’re trying to figure out the molecular mechanisms that are occurring when fatty acids bind to the receptor, with a focus on what happens to the receptor protein itself,” Moniri said. “The long-term goal is to discover a drug that can activate these effects.”

Dr. Moniri said that he personally trains all of his students. “I try to spend as much time with them as I can working side-by-side in the lab,” he said.  The NIH-funded project is intended to integrate Pharm.D. and Ph.D. students into the research endeavor to broaden student interests in biomedical research and train the next generation of young scientists. “The training my students get in my lab doesn’t mean they will do what they’re doing in my lab forever, but it gives them a good skill set and a solid foundation as they progress to the next phase in their careers, whether that’s looking for a job or additional training as a post-doctor.”

In addition to the NIH study, Dr. Moniri is also conducting a study investigating the impact of reactive oxygen species (ROS) on ?2 adrenergic receptor signaling in disorders of the lungs, heart, and kidneys, which express high densities of ?2Receptors.  Since ROS are typically perceived to have negative effects on cells, the long-term goals of this work are to better understand the beneficial effect that low levels of ROS seem to have in cells.