May 19, 2006

Gillis lands grant to support liver research

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Lynette Gillis, M.D., has landed a three-year Liver Scholar Award.
Photo by Anne Rayner

Gillis lands grant to support liver research

Lynette Gillis, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, has been selected to receive a 2006 Liver Scholar Award from the American Liver Foundation and the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease.

The three-year, $225,000 award will support Gillis's efforts to understand the role of fatty acid oxidation in insulin signaling/dysregulation and fatty liver disease.

"This award is highly competitive at the national level,” said Arnold Strauss, M.D., chair of Pediatrics and medical director for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. “Dr. Gillis's success in this application is testimony to her dedication to understanding the mechanisms underlying an interesting genetic disorder of fatty acid metabolism that has direct relevance to common liver disorders that occur in both children and adults."

Added Brent Polk, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, “We are all very proud of Dr. Gillis for her work in pediatric gastroenterology and metabolic diseases. This career development award by the American Liver Foundation is national recognition of her potential to make substantive contributions to the care of these patients through her research and of the international leadership role of her laboratory mentor, Dr. Strauss."

Gillis is investigating a rare fatty acid oxidation disorder called SCHAD deficiency. Infants born with this metabolic disorder, the result of a single gene defect, have elevated insulin levels, low blood sugar and fatty liver.

Gillis will study the disorder in a mouse gene knockout model developed in her laboratory. Mouse models for fatty acid oxidation disorders have been highly informative, Gillis said. They faithfully reproduce the clinical outcomes of the human disorder and have been successfully used to characterize these disorders at the molecular level.

While SCHAD deficiency is rare, hyperinsulinism and fatty liver are common and important in the metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Gillis also hopes to understand how heterozygous defects in multiple genes in the fatty acid oxidation pathways can predispose patients to these clinical outcomes, especially in the setting of environmental stressors like fasting and strenuous exercise.

“It is gratifying to work in the exciting area of rare “orphan” monogenic diseases, doing work and gaining knowledge that could significantly benefit these children,” Gillis said. “This is the bench-to-bedside career that I have always envisioned.”