Endocrinology Faculty Research Activities

There are extensive research activities within the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology which are supported by grants from federal government, pharmaceutical companies, foundations, and private donations as well as Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Silva Arslanian, MD – Research is in the area of childhood insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, dysmetabolic syndrome and PCOS, with special emphasis on the period of puberty and racial (black/white) differences. She is funded by NIH (R01, K24, U01) and Foundations. The research tools used in her laboratory are state-of-the-art hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp (to measure in vivo insulin sensitivity), hyperglycemic clamp (to measure in vivo insulin secretion), stable isotope technology for the investigation of in vivo glucose, protein, and fat metabolism, indirect calorimetry for assessment of energy metabolism  and substrate oxidation, DEXA and MRI for assessment of body composition and ectopic fat disposition, and phosphorus spectroscopy for the study of mitochondrial function together with metabolomics. Her research has made seminal discoveries in childhood type 2 diabetes and its pathophysiology, and how to distinguish obese youth with auto immune type 1 diabetes from those with type 2 diabetes. She has made major contributions to our understanding of the racial differences in risk of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome and treatment approaches.

Dorothy Becker, MBBCh – Research interests include the prediction and prevention for insulin-independent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), a project carried on in collaboration with epidemiologists in the Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh. Other areas of research interest are the acute and chronic complications of IDDM focusing on epidemiologic predictors of these complications in collaboration with investigators in the Department of Epidemiology, and the acute effects of hypoglycemia on counter-regulatory hormones, cognitive function and cerebral blood flow in collaboration with Dr. Christopher Ryan in the Department of Psychiatry. Laboratory activities include measurements of insulin and counter-regulatory hormones and islet cell antibodies.

Mark Sperling, MD – Research focuses on understanding the role of the growth hormone/growth hormone receptor axis in health and disease. The projects currently underway in the laboratory address two major themes. First is the identification and characterization of the molecular mechanisms regulating expression of the murine growth hormone receptor (GHR) gene. The second major theme relates to GH/GHR and the heart. In recent years, investigational interest has focused on the role of growth hormone (GH) in the maintenance of cardiac structure and function. A detailed investigation of the cellular and molecular basis of this phenomenon is the focus of the laboratory’s efforts. In a related project, in collaboration with Derek LeRoith, MD, at the NIH, the laboratory is developing a model for studying the role of the GH/GHR in the heart in the intact animal using the strategy of CRE-LOX mediated targeted disruption of the GHR gene. These research projects extensively utilize molecular techniques such as DNA cloning, PCR, gel-retardation assays, footprint assays, transient transfection assays and protein expression systems.

Selma Witchel, MD – Research areas include disorders of puberty, inborn errors of steroidogenesis, and molecular genetics of endocrine disorders with special emphasis on congenital adrenal hyperplasia and PCOS. The molecular techniques that she utilizes include PCR amplification, single-strand conformational polymorphism analysis (SSCP), and allele specific oligonucleotide hybridization (ASOH) analysis.

Research Resources and Collaborators

  1. The General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) is an NIH-funded four-bed facility for the conduct of state-of-the-art clinical research. Silva Arslanian, MD, is Director of the GCRC.
  2. Ron LaPorte, MD; Jan Dorman, MD and Trevor Orchard, MD, in the Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, have been close collaborators on the etiology and epidemiology of IDDM and its complications. These investigators are located in the Rangos Research Center of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. 
  3. The Obesity Nutrition Research Center, an NIH-funded core facility under the directorship of Dr. Rena Wing, has been an important resource for Dr. Arslanian’s research.
  4. Robert Ferrell , MD, of the Department of Human Genetics, Graduate School of Public Health, has been working closely with the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology in investigating genetics of endocrine disorders.
  5. Christopher Ryan, PhD, and Maria Kovacs, PhD, Department of Psychiatry have been active collaborators in the diabetes program investigating psycho-behavioral and cognitive consequences of childhood diabetes.