WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Steven C. Elbein, M.D., an endocrinologist recognized internationally for type 2 diabetes genetics research, has joined Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center as a professor of internal medicine and chief of the Section on Endocrinology and Metabolism, bringing with him a five-person diabetes research team.
Elbein comes to the Medical Center from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) where he was a professor of medicine and recent program director of the General Clinical Research Center, as well as chief of the Endocrinology Section at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital.
Elbein and his team are clarifying the role that genetics plays in the development of type 2 (adult) diabetes, with the hope that understanding the early events that lead to the development of diabetes will provide new targets for early intervention.
Elbein is part of an international consortium focused on mapping the type 2 diabetes genes in a region on chromosome 1q that has been identified in multiple populations as shared in diabetic members of families with multiple diabetic members.
He brings to Wake Forest Baptist two research grants funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) focused on finding the genetic basis for type 2 diabetes in populations of both European and African ancestry. In addition to examining the role of an individual’s genetic makeup in the predisposition to type 2 diabetes, Elbein’s laboratory focuses on understanding how those genes contribute to the early signs of diabetes before glucose (blood sugar) rises, and how the variation in DNA contributes to the expression and function of individual genes. Elbein’s primary focus is to understand the relationship of genetic variation and the way in which the glucose-lowering hormone insulin is made and how it acts.
“We are extremely fortunate to have recruited Steve Elbein, a renowned clinical scholar, after an extensive national search. Dr. Elbein’s area of investigation is at the forefront of research being conducted nationally and internationally on the genetic basis of type 2 diabetes and its complications,” said Thomas D. DuBose Jr., M.D., Tinsley R. Harrison Professor and Chair of internal medicine. “As a clinical scholar, Steve is also a gifted clinician who is dedicated to caring for patients with diabetes.”
DuBose said that while Elbein’s studies will complement the substantive research on diabetes already under way here, his addition to the faculty will greatly extend and positively impact the future research contributions on Type 2 diabetes by scientists at the Medical Center.
“One of the reasons that I came to Wake Forest Baptist is that I have collaborative relationships here. There is exciting genetics work under way here, and we look forward to the tremendous opportunity for powerful collaborations that will contribute to our knowledge of why people get diabetes, and particularly why diabetes disproportionately affects African-Americans,” said Elbein.
Among the current projects in Elbein’s laboratory is an investigation of why insulin does not work appropriately in most people who are overweight, while in others of the same weight, age, and sex, insulin works in the same way it does in people who are lean. The work incorporates the study of gene expression from human fat and muscle tissue to understand the overall changes that are related to how insulin works to lower glucose.
“The hope with all of this research ultimately is to identify people at risk for diabetes early and to intervene,” said Elbein.
Elbein’s work will complement the more than $27 million in diabetes research grants under way at Wake Forest Baptist’s Diabetes Research Center, said Donald Bowden, Ph.D., center director. It also complements research under way in nephrology in the area of diabetic nephropathy or kidney disease.
Elbein will spend about a quarter of his time at the Veterans Administration clinic in Salisbury, and the rest at the Medical Center where he will direct the Section on Endocrinology and Metabolism, develop new programs for diabetes care and expand his research program. Elbein will work with the Salisbury VA to expand the relationship between the Medical Center and the VA, which cares for a large number of diabetic patients in the Winston-Salem area.
Elbein earned his medical degree at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, and completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in endocrinology at Barnes Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine before joining the faculty at University of Utah Health Sciences Center prior to his most recent position at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Elbein’s research group includes geneticist Swapan K. Das, Ph.D., assistant professor of endocrinology; Ashis Mondal, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow who is focused on cell biology; lab technicians Neeraj Sharma, M.S., and Kurt Langberg, B.S., all relocating from UAMS; and Lijun Ma, Ph.D., who is relocating from the National Institute for Diabetes and Kidney Disease in Phoenix, where he has worked on genetics of type 2 diabetes in Pima Indians in a lab that is part of the collaborative consortium on type 2 diabetes on chromosome 1q.
As chief of the Medical Center’s endocrinology section, Elbein follows K. Patrick Ober, M.D., professor of internal medicine-endocrinology, who is stepping down as section chief but will continue to teach, care for patients, direct the endocrinology fellowship program and serve as associate dean for education of the School of Medicine.