Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology

The Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology, headed by Debbie C. Thurmond, Ph.D., is pioneering efforts to investigate biological mechanisms involved with type 1 and type 2 diabetes development and substances that promote or interfere with those processes. The findings can lead to potential therapies that can reverse or prevent the onset of these diseases, as well as diagnostic tools that can detect each disease type earlier.

This newly-formed department within the Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute conducts cellular, animal model and human tissue research with a multi-disciplinary staff that includes molecular and cellular biology, physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology expertise. In collaboration with City of Hope’s scientific and clinical colleagues, Dr. Thurmond and her team hope to transform significant findings into innovative cellular treatments for people diagnosed with or at risk for type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Our Research Highlights
  • Insulin- and glucose-mediating proteins: Thurmond and her team found that three proteins, syntaxin 4 (STX4), p21-activated kinase (PAK1) and Doc2b play significant roles in insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells, as well as insulin and glucose uptake by skeletal muscle and fat tissues. Previous studies have found that a depletion of STX4 and PAK1 reduced insulin release and sensitivity, elevating diabetes susceptibility. Meanwhile, overexpression of STX4 and Doc2b has led to improved glucose control. Based on these findings, researchers are exploring therapeutic approaches that can restore or raise STX4 and Doc2b levels, which can increase insulin secretion and overcome insulin resistance among diabetics and those at risk of developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • Expanding islet cell availability for transplants: Although islet cell transplantation is a promising therapy that can improve diabetics’ blood glucose control—achieving independence from regular insulin injections in some cases—the narrow supply of available islet cells, which are only available from human donors, greatly limit this treatment’s availability. Because STX4 has the ability to activate dormant insulin-producing beta cells, researchers are studying whether incorporating this protein can lead to successful transplants using fewer islet cells. Ultimately, this will allow for more transplants with this limited resource.
  • Biomarkers for diabetes detection and prevention: Because depletion of STX4 and PAK1 is observed in diabetics, researchers are investigating if these proteins can be used for detecting early diabetic changes, allowing for more timely interventions that can preserve islet cell function and improve blood glucose control. In a related project, researchers are also studying how risk factors for diabetes (such as obesity, inflammation or a diet high in fat and sugar) affect production and utilization of these proteins to better understand the cause of diabetes.
Team Members

Debbie C. Thurmond, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology

Janice Huss, Ph.D.
Associate professor, Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology

Patrick Fueger, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology

Lei Jiang, Ph.D.
Assistant professor, Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology

Qiong Wang, Ph.D.
Assistant professor, Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology