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 UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

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.

H. Henry Dong, PhD – Dr. Dong is a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Dong focuses on studies of the mechanisms underlying beta-cell failure and diabetic hypertriglyceridemia in type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes results from beta-cell failure, culminating in the inability of beta-cells to compensate for insulin resistance in at-risk subjects with obesity. Beta-cell compensation is an adaptive mechanism by which beta-cells increase insulin secretion to overcome insulin resistance for maintaining euglycemia in obesity. Beta-cell compensation culminates in the expansion of beta-cell mass and/or upregulation of insulin synthesis and secretion. Failure of beta-cells to compensate for insulin resistance contributes to insulin insufficiency and overt diabetes. How beta-cells compensate for insulin resistance and what causes beta-cell failure are poorly understood. Likewise, the molecular basis that links insulin resistance to the pathogenesis of hypertriglyceridemia is incompletely understood. Diabetic hypertriglyceridemia is characterized by a triad plasma lipid profile, i.e., increased triglyceride and LDL-cholesterol levels, and decreased HDL-cholesterol levels. Diabetic hypertriglyceridemia is considered an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease. Dr. Dong's lab works to characterize factors in glucose and lipid metabolism to understand how insulin resistance perturbs carbohydrate metabolism, contributing to the development of diabetic hypertriglyceridemia. Dr. Dong's group is also positioned to identify genetic factor(s) that are responsible for beta-cell compensation for insulin resistance and obesity. This aspect of research is to understand the mechanism of beta-cell failure in type 2 diabetes. Dr. Dong’s research is funded by National Institute of Health and American Diabetes Association. 

Kara Hughan, MD – Research examines hepatic-islet signaling, mitochondrial function and cardiovascular health in obesity, PCOS and cystic fibrosis in pediatric and adult populations. Her NIH K23 funded project examines the effects of chronic oral nitrite therapy on blood pressure, endothelial function and insulin sensitivity in hypertensive obese adults. Dr. Hughan is co-investigator in the NIH-funded TODAY study (Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Adolescents and Youth) which follows youth-onset type 2 diabetes complications in the original TODAY subjects. Dr. Hughan is a former recipient of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation EnVision Cohort I award and serves as faculty co-mentor for EnVision Cohort II. Her research team is investigating the relationship of liver fibrosis (using an imaging modality, transient elastography) with glucose excursion, insulin-dependent and insulin-independent glucose disposal, and free fatty acid flux during oral glucose tolerance testing in individuals with CF. Her research team also aims to improve the rate of bone health screening in young adults with CF at the CHP CF Care Center. Dr. Hughan is aligned strategically with the Bayer Corporation on a project aimed to define the natural history of PCOS after diagnosis, the incidence/prevalence of PCOS, and the co-morbidities and the cardiovascular risk outcomes in a cohort of women with PCOS diagnosis codes within the UPMC electronic health record and compare them to an age and race similar reference cohort without PCOS.

Ingrid Libman, MD, PhD – Dr. Libman is the Director of the Pediatric Diabetes Program at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Her scientific interests focus on the etiology, prevention and management of diabetes in childhood, with particular emphasis on the effect of obesity and insulin resistance in type 1 diabetes mellitus. She has extensive experience in the area of population-based epidemiology as well as clinical research, including evaluation of insulin sensitivity using hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamps and participation in clinical trials evaluating different interventions and therapies for youth with diabetes mellitus. She directs the Diabetes Transition Program, aimed at proving the best care and evaluation of research initiatives to support and guide successful transition for young patients with diabetes mellitus. She is also the co-PI for the Diabetes High Fidelity Wrap Around Project, a study that aims to develop, refine and test an innovative strategy to improve the adherence to medical regimens, including self-management and ultimately self-efficacy in high risk youth with type 1 diabetes. She is also involved in the development and testing of age-appropriate shared decision-making tools to educate about the importance of prevention and screening for complications of diabetes and is collaborating with investigators from Carnegie Mellon University, in evaluating the role that friends play in the psychological, behavioral, and physical health of adolescents with type 1 diabetes. She is an investigator on numerous multicenter studies of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, including the TrialNet study and the TODAY study, and was the PI of the Pittsburgh Center for the T1D Exchange. Dr. Libman is the Immediate Past Chair of the American Diabetes Association Diabetes in Youth Interest Group and member of the ADA Scientific Sessions Meeting Planning Committee.  She was recently elected to the Advisory Council of the International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes (ISPAD). 

Radhika Muzumdar, MDDr – Muzumdar’s research is focused on a novel mitochondria-associated peptide called humanin, GH, insulin-like growth factors and their binding partners on glucose homeostasis, energy metabolism, cardiovascular health, and aging. Her lab is also studying the link between tumor suppressor gene AIM 2 and obesity, as well as the role of novel acyl dehydrogenase enzyme (ACAD 10) on glucose/lipid metabolism and mitochondrial function. Dr. Muzumdar’s laboratory utilizes relevant murine models, molecular genetic approaches and in vitro biochemical assays to examine novel regulators of energy and glucose homeostasis.  She is on several national and international study sections, including the NIH, AFAR research council, Binational Israel foundation, Israeli Science Foundation, Marsden Fund (New Zealand) and Wellcome Trust UK. She serves as standing member on the NIA/ASG study section and on AFAR’s National Scientific Advisory Council. Dr. Muzumdar is the principal investigator of the Research Training in Pediatric Endocrinology program (T32). The goal of this T32 training grant is to provide state-of-the-art training in the molecular, cellular, physiologic, genetic, and biochemical aspects of pediatric endocrinology to ensure that the physician-scientists who graduate from this program are well prepared for productive academic careers in translational research related to pediatric endocrinology. She is an active member of the Pediatric Endocrine Society (PES) and is Immediate past Chair of the Research advisory committee of PES.

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.