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Heritage College expands diabetes expertise with four research hires

Heritage College expands diabetes expertise with four research hires

(ATHENS, Ohio – Sept. 24, 2015) The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine has hired four faculty with expertise in diabetes-related medical research. The new faculty, Kevin Lee, Ph.D., Chunmin Lo, Ph.D., Craig Nunemaker, Ph.D., and Vishwajeet Puri, Ph.D., are members of The Diabetes Institute and will be housed in the college’s department of biomedical sciences. They were brought on board with financial support provided through the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation’s Vision 2020: Leading the Transformation of Primary Care in Ohio award.

“With the support of the OHF, we have recruited a high caliber of scientists to join our already strong faculty,” said Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O., executive dean of the Heritage College. “Our four new researchers are part of a cluster hire intended to deepen our research around obesity, diabetes and related conditions. We see research as a critical part of our college’s mission to address complex health problems and improve the well-being of the populations we serve.”

“We are excited to have them join us and for the opportunities they bring for collaboration,” said Darlene Berryman, Ph.D., R.D., executive director of The Diabetes Institute. “The new researchers bring a wealth of expertise to The Diabetes Institute, the college and the university.”

About the new faculty (in alphabetical order)

Kevin Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor

Prior to joining the Heritage College, Lee was a postdoctoral fellow at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Lee’s research has focused on adipose tissue, specifically the function of fat cells at the molecular level, including gene expression and its associated risk with type 2 diabetes. Lee, who received his doctoral degree from Baylor College of Medicine, has more than 30 publications.

“The idea of starting at the Heritage College as part of team sounded like an exciting opportunity,” said Lee. “Each of us brings something unique to the table, and I’m looking forward to the opportunities for cross talk and to help each other out.”

Chunmin Lo, Ph.D., assistant professor

Lo brings to the Heritage College a strong background in physiology research. Lo received a doctoral degree in food science from the University of Missouri and has spent the past decade studying how hormonal signals are sent from the gut to the brain, which can affect appetite and the regulation of body weight.

“This position offers a wide range of opportunities to collaborate with other experts in obesity and type 2 diabetes,” said Lo, who was a research assistant professor with the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Cincinnati before joining the Heritage College. “This team approach will make us more competitive when applying for federal grants.”

Craig Nunemaker, Ph.D., associate professor

Nunemaker came to the Heritage College from the University of Virginia, where he was an associate professor of medicine, member of the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center, and Director of the Islet Cell Isolation Core facility. Nunemaker’s research, which has been continuously funded for more than 10 years, has focused on the pancreatic islet cells that make insulin, called beta cells. He is investigating the mechanisms that prevent beta cells from functioning properly, which can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. With support from a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) grant, Nunemaker is currently examining how inflammation contributes to beta-cell destruction in diabetic conditions without harming non-diabetic beta cells.

Nunemaker has published more than 40 articles and sits on the editorial board of Biological Procedures Online and the Journal of Diabetes Research. He has been a reviewer for numerous influential medical journals and grant-funding agencies, including the NIDDK. Nunemaker is also dedicated to undergraduate research, having mentored 17 undergraduate students at the University of Virginia, in many cases resulting in authorship on published journal articles.

“When I looked at the Heritage College, I saw this was an environment focused on providing research support and included many possibilities for collaboration with scientists who have shared interests. People are already reaching out,” said Nunemaker, who received his doctoral degree in neuroscience from the University of Virginia. “These were major factors in my decision to come to the college.”

Vishwajeet Puri, Ph.D., associate professor, Heritage Endowed Professorship

Puri, who previously was an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, researches how the body stores and breaks down fat and its connection to obesity, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Two of his projects are actively funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). He has been a principal investigator or co-investigator on several NIH-funded studies since 2009.

An innovative method he and collaborators created to increase oil content in plants was recently filed for international patent and has many promising uses including applications in the production of biofuels, biolubricants, bioplastics and food industry.

Puri, who received his doctoral degree in biochemistry from the Institute of Microbial Technology in India and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, currently sits on the editorial board of the journal Frontiers, is a reviewer for several prominent journals, and has published more than 38 articles. He has been invited for lectures at various international institutions and scientific conferences.

“I noticed the college is very structured, far-sighted and is motivated to grow. There is a strong commercialization potential here for research. With so much happening, I felt the college’s goals fit very well with mine. Also, my research and interest fits lock and key with that of The Diabetes Institute,” said Puri, who brought three members of his research team to Athens.

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.