Program for Translational Research in Diabetes & Metabolic Diseases

Dr. Elif Oral, MD
Elif A. Oral, MD, MS

We are at an exciting time for metabolic research. Significant mechanistic knowledge is gained in the laboratories using powerful, novel technologies. Most of the knowledge is obtained from laboratory animals and in artificial experimental settings that cannot accurately proximate human homeostasis. Thus, it is important to bring clinical expertise closer to the laboratory bench. It is also important to take concepts and mechanisms obtained at the bench closer to the patients' problems seen in clinic. We are committed to achieving this mission for disorders of human adiposity and related metabolic problems. We have a track record of being able to accomplish this in a rare human condition. We have learned valuable lessons from our unique experience in lipodystrophy syndromes and would like to see if these lessons can be applied to more common human conditions with related metabolic problems.

Elif A. Oral, MD, MS, who leads the research program, is a Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes (MEND), Director of the Post Bariatric Clinic, and Director of the Obesity and Metabolic Disorders Program. She is an academic endocrinologist whose main research interests lie in examining the unifying consequences of having too much fat versus too little fat.

Currently, our research program has three distinctive focus areas:

To define new metabolic diseases that would fall in the spectrum of Atypical Diabetes and Syndromic Metabolic Disease

We believe that patients with rare diseases are gifts of nature to clinical investigators. We made a commitment to honor these gifts by trying to uncover the mechanisms leading to these phenotypes and then work on solutions that may be unique for these patients. Ultimately, this is a form of personalized medicine that should bear fruit quickly with the rapidly advancing technology.

With colleagues at Michigan Medical Genetics Laboratories (MMGL), Drs. Innis and Tayeh, we have so far identified the molecular cause of disease in 35 unique cases, most of whom had abnormalities in previously discovered genes. We are working to find the solution now for 65 additional patients with some form of lipodystrophy.

With our industry partners and collaborators around the globe, we are looking to launch new clinical trials in distinctive forms of lipodystrophy (The BROADEN Study: A Study of Volanesorsen (Formerly ISIS-APOCIIIRx) in Patients With Familial Partial Lipodystrophy).

With our collaborators in the field of lipodystrophy, we hope to establish a global network that will facilitate understanding various forms of lipodystrophy, quickly filling gaps in knowledge. Goals of the network will be to:

  • Increase global awareness of various lipodystrophy syndromes.
  • Define the natural history of the disease states and develop standards of care in disease management.
  • Rapidly perform clinical trials to prove efficacy of specific agents and expedite approval of the drugs to improve lives of patients afflicted with the diseases.
  • Engage advocacy leaders, patients, families, and other stakeholders in the process of care delivery and new therapeutic development.
  • Train the next generation of scientists in the field of human metabolic diseases.
  • To establish a biorepository for blood, DNA, and human tissue for patients afflicted with lipodystrophy (potentially enriched with a body donation program).

To translate the personalization approach taken from rare human diseases to the broader populations

There is no doubt that leptin is very effective in states of leptin deficiency. However, little is known about the determinants of response in common obesity. If we can show that leptin response is dependent on baseline circulating levels in a disease accepted to be linked to obesity, this would be a significant contribution to the field of obesity. One of our goals is to see if the concept of Relative Leptin Deficiency is a meaningful concept in terms of predicting responsiveness to exogenous leptin therapy. We have utilized this approach in NASH, and treated a small number of men in whom the circulating leptin levels were less than 9 ng/mL. In this pilot study, we have seen clinically significant response in amelioration of NASH in histopathology (Recombinant Leptin Therapy for Treatment of Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)).

We hope to collaborate with large epidemiological studies at the populational level to determine if individuals with metabolic disease can be identified with low leptin levels and potentially other biomarkers. We believe that approaching the diseases of human adiposity with the acceptance of clinical heterogeneity and developing methods of classification represents a viable strategy for understanding the multitudes of reasons leading to metabolic diseases with the ultimate goal to develop effective therapeutic strategies against metabolic disease using a personalized approach.

While designing our own investigator initiated trials with new therapeutic approaches for combatting metabolic disease (Amlexanox for Type 2 Diabetes and ObesityEfficacy of Amlexanox vs. Placebo in Type 2 Diabetic Patients) or participating in large multi-center studies (Exenatide Study of Cardiovascular Event Lowering Trial (EXSCEL)), we have been seeking ways of understanding the heterogeneity of the populations enrolled in the studies.

To determine the outcomes of bariatric surgery procedures using the experience from our Post-Bariatric Endocrine Clinic

While Bariatric Surgery appears to target obesity with the broadest number of responders, there are still unique variations in the pattern, rate, and the degree of weight loss achieved.

  • We have published the 2- and 5-year outcomes of our own program here at Michigan Medicine.
  • We are working to determine if distinctive clusters can be observed among our cohort with respect to morphometric, genetic, epigenetic, and biochemical characteristics. 


Patient Story

Advocating for Her Own Rare Disease: Andra's Story