What makes us the way we are? Why are some people predisposed to be overweight? How is it that some of us are prone to Type 2 diabetes?
Research projects in the Alejandro lab are aimed to understand the developmental origins of obesity and type 2 diabetes. In particular, we are interested in understanding the early life origins of insulin-producing beta-cell dysfunction and to identify novel endogenous modulators of insulin secretion and regeneration for potential treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. We use genetic animal models to assess the roles of key nutrient-sensor proteins like mTOR and OGT in the programming of multiple tissues setpoints during the developmental period that can impact their function and eventual development of obesity and diabetes in adulthood. Identifying modifiable risk factors is key in decreasing the incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
One research objectives of the lab is to understand how placental-insufficiency during pregnancy alters the adult offspring's beta-cell function and susceptibility to diabetes and to identify the mechanistic link between beta-cell programming and sensitivity to cellular stress involving ER stress, oxidative stress, autophagy and mitochondrial stress in chronic hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia conditions. A second objective involves studying the roles of mTOR and OGT in beta-cell development, function, and plasticity. We use a diverse of techniques from epigenetics, electrophysiology, biochemistry, molecular approaches to in vitro to whole animal in vivo phenotyping of glucose metabolism and beta-cell function.
Dr. Eric Gustafson received his Ph.D. in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. As a talented electrophysiologist trained by Dr. Robert Miller, he is involved in many projects in the lab. His main focus is to understand the mechanisms of OGT and NMDAR in insulin secretion using patch-clamp electrophysiology in single cells or whole intact islets. May 1, 2018- present.
Dr. Megan Beetch received her PhD in Human Nutrition from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Her training in nutritional epigenetics will be utilized in diabetes models to assess changes in response to mTOR manipulation and in relation of OGT. Dr. Beetch is currently supported by the UMN Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism T32. Outside of the lab, she enjoys running, reading and spending time with friends and family now that she is back home in Minnesota. June 1, 2020 - present.
Mr. Seokwon Jo is a prolific 3rd year student in the graduate program in Integrative Biology and Physiology. He has received many awards for scholarship, leadership and research that includes the Allan Hemingway Scholarship, Lifson/Johnson Memorial Award and Steer Diabetes Award from the Medical School. His PhD thesis is on the crosstalk of nutrient-sensor proteins mTOR and OGT in the regulation of beta cell function. Before going to graduate school, he was our lab manager from June 1 2016- August of 2019. Outside the lab, Seokwon's hobbies include food, tea, horror movies and being creative. August 1, 2019-present.
Mr. Brian Akhaphong is Minnesota made. As a former undergrad in IBP Physiology, he worked on the effects of hypertension during pregnancy or preeclampsia on beta-cell development and function in the offspring. He is continuing this work as a post-baccalaureate junior scientist, and expanding on the impact of placental insufficiency in maternal programming of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Outside of the lab, he likes to play with his two needy cats, Reginold and Pooksi. Mr. Akhaphong is supported by a two-year Award from NIH, and he hopes to pursue graduate school/medical school. October 1, 2015- present.
Ms. Alicia Wong received her BS degree in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota in December of 2018. In the lab, she focuses on beta cell mass analysis involving various projects in pancreas development. In summer of 2018, she joined the lab full-time via funding through MSROP and subsequently received the Juliamarie Andreen Grilly Undergraduate Research Scholarship in Molecular Biology in the fall. Ms. Wong was supported by UROP until her graduation. She worked as Researcher 1 in the lab working on the role of OGT in pancreas development from December 2016- July 2020. She is currently working on her PhD thesis focusing on the role of OGT in beta-cell fate and function. Ms.Wong is a UMN Stem Cell Institute Infuse Predoctoral Scholar. June 2021-present.
Ms. Briana Clifton is a sophomore undergraduate student studying Human Physiology, Spanish, and Urdu/Hindi Studies. She hopes to attend medical school following graduation. In the lab, Briana works with Mr. Seokwon Jo on various projects. Outside of the lab, Briana enjoys watching horror movies, trying new restaurants, and practicing her creative writing. September 2019-Present.
Ms. Grace Chung is a recent graduate of the Master of Biological Sciences Program. She is now a researcher in the lab continuing her research on the role of placental insulin signaling on the fetal programming of metabolic disease. July 2018-Present.
Ms. Eunice Oribamise received her BS in Human Anatomy from Babcock University in Nigeria. She is currently a MS student in the Stem Cell Biology program and is currently working on pancreas development by nutrient sensor protein mTOR and OGT. She has a genuine passion to make an impact through science! Outside work, she enjoys watching good movies, learning new skills, and spending time with family and friends. January 2021-Present.
Mr. Fred Anderson is a sophomore studying Human Physiology, and Spanish & Portuguese Studies. He is collaborating with Mr. Seokwon Jo to explore the crosstalk between OGT, and mTOR in beta cells. He hopes to attend medical school after graduation. Outside of the lab, Fred enjoys rock climbing, documentaries, trying new foods, and spending time with family and friends. January 2021 - present.
Mr. Nicklas Damberg graduated as a Biology student at the University of Minnesota. Nicklas and Ms. Amber Lockridge worked together to assess bihormonal cell number in multiple projects. He was a UROP student in 2018. He is looking forward to applying to medical school this summer! September 2016- October 2019
Ms. Paola M. Pou Acosta is an undergraduate biology student in the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey. She is participating in the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Program from UMN and working with Mr. Seokwon Jo and Mr. Brian Akhaphong studying insulin signaling pathways in mTOR and TSC2 placental models. Outside of the lab, Paola loves mofongo, ice cream, reading, sports, and movies. July 2019-August 2019.
Mr. Daniel Baumann was former Researcher 1. He worked on the role of OGT in pancreatic development. He also investigated the contribution of placental nutrient sensors in beta-cell programming and susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. He is currently a graduate student in IBP Graduate Program.
Ms. Tate Zemanovic worked in the lab during her 3rd and 4th year as Physiology Major student at the University of Minnesota. Tate is now a graduate student in New York City.
Ms. Miranda Olson work on third year student Physiology. She worked on the impact of nutrient sensor protein mTOR and OGT during pregnancy on the development of beta-cell mass.
Ms. Lensa Ali- worked in the lab during her junior year majoring in Physiology, and she studied the impact of OGT in beta-cell development. She is now in medical school at the University of Minnesota.
Ms. Michelle Ann Wasan- joined the lab as a junior student from the University of Washington in Seattle. While in the lab, she assisted in characterizing the phenotype of mice overexpressing a kinase-dead mutant mTOR and offspring of dams exposed to low-protein diet during the last week of pregnancy. She is now in Pharmacy School at the University of Minnesota in Duluth!
Ms. Bailey Aberthany worked on her honors thesis in the lab which was on the role of OGT in beta-cell adaptation to insulin resistance. She is now in Medical School at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Ms. Alleah Abrenica- was our first summer intern from the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines. Her summer project involved insulin signaling assessment in liver and visceral fat of mice lacking Serine Racemase. Summer of 2016
Ms. Danica Fondevilla- was our Summer 2017 intern from the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines. She worked on the insulin signaling pathway in liver and adipose tissue of mice lacking placental mTOR signaling.
Ms. Michelle Sia- was our Summer 2018 intern from the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines. She worked on Akt and mTOR signaling in the various models of fetal programming of type 2 diabetes (RUPP and TSC2 deletion in the placenta).
Ms. Kinsley Kehlenbeck, worked in the lab during her senior as an undergraduate student double majoring in Spanish Studies and Physiology. She worked on various projects mastering tissue sectioning, staining and imaging techniques as well as analyzing beta and alpha cell mass. As a type one diabetic herself, Kinsley is very interested in learning more about pathways involved in the onset of diabetes and the genes involved in the progression of the disease. Kinsley is now in Dental School at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Ms. Neha Panigrahy was a Senior student in Chemistry and Physiology. She completed her honor thesis in the lab looking at the role of OGT in autophagy. She is now in Medical School at University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign.
Dr. Elizabeth Morgan was a Maternal-Fetal Medicine fellow who has joined the Alejandro Lab to research placental nutrient sensing proteins and their role in fetal growth restriction. She was returning to the bench after a long hiatus, having studied molecular biology and bioinformatics prior to her matriculation into medical school. She starts as an attending physician in Massachusetts at the completion of her fellowship next Fall, 2019, and hopes to use what she has learned with Dr. Alejandro to continue her scientific career.
Ms. Elina Da Sol Chung worked in the lab during her 3rd-4th year as a Physiology student at the University of Minnesota. Ms. Chung is currently applying for Medical School.
Ms. Hani Abi is a senior majoring in Biology, Society and Environment in the college of liberal arts. In the lab she worked with Amber Lockridge on various products from July to October 2019.
Multiple training positions in diabetes and metabolism research are available in our lab for highly motivated trainees.
Post-doctoral Fellowship Position Requirement
PhD in Physiology or in a biomedical science is required.
Candidates must be highly motivated, productive and dedicated to a research career. This position is also ideal for a recent PhD graduate who wants to learn new research methods and embark on a successful academic career. Candidates with a strong background in electrophysiology and molecular biology with experience in pancreatic islet beta-cell or familiarity with animal models of diabetes/obesity are encouraged to apply.
Apply and Find More Information
PhD students, MD students, Endocrinology Fellows, and undergraduates interested in pursuing research in the Alejandro lab should contact Dr. Alejandro directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
- cover letter including career goal and research summary
- names of 2-3 references
Alejandro Lab Meeting
Mentoring is a priority for Dr. Alejandro. She has an open door policy and she meets one-on-one once a month or weekly with her trainees (undergrads, post-baccalaureate, graduate students, and post-docs) to discuss research progress and career development. Dr. Alejandro encourages trainees to seek their own independent funding, and her trainees has been competitive to training grants such as T32 and F31. All undergraduates are encourage to apply for UROP, https://ugresearch.umn.edu/opportunities/urop, and LSSURP, https://med.umn.edu/education-training/graduate-programs/life-sciences-summer-undergraduate-research-program-lssurp.
We have weekly lab meetings, during which at least two individuals present current research data or experimental methods. We have a monthly Journal Club where we discuss new journal articles from a variety of scientific journals that apply to our research area or are of general interest. The Alejandro Lab also participates in weekly meetings with Dr. David Bernlohr's Adipose Biology group. Joint meeting with Dr. Haibin-Ruan's group four times a year to discuss glycobiology, and additional training on glycobiology can come from NIH Glycobiology Scientific Interest Group, https://oir.nih.gov/sigs/glycobiology-scientific-interest-group
The University of Minnesota (UMN) and the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology (IBP) offer many opportunities to foster intellectual conversation and collaborative discussion to create a strong scientific environment for the Alejandro lab trainees. Below are example of opportunities for trainees:
Integrated Biology And Physiology Seminars
During the school year, the department hosts a biweekly seminar in which invited faculty presents their work. In the summer, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows present their work. When Dr. Alejandro host a visiting faculty, her team meets one-on-one or as a group with the speaker to discuss science and career development. https://med.umn.edu/physiology
Pancreas Interest Group
Twice during the school year, multiple laboratories across UMN and the Schulze Diabetes Institutes (https://med.umn.edu/surgery/research/schulze-diabetes-institute ) interested in all aspects of pancreas and beta cell biology get together to present and discuss current research that is being performed in their laboratories. Graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and PIs present. Islet focused seminars are disseminated through membership at the islet biology interest group, email@example.com.
CityWide Endocrine: Diabetes, Endocrinology, & Metabolism
During the school year, this weekly meeting offers a variety of seminar topics, ranging from basic science to clinical topics. Presenters include physicians and basic science scientists.
University of Minnesota/University of Iowa Institute of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism
Weekly seminars presented by world renown experts from around the world. Links to schedule:https://medicine.uiowa.edu/diabetes/events/month/2020-07-01
Stem Cell Institute
During the school year, the institute hosts a weekly seminar in which invited faculty presents their research. During the summer, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows present their work. When Dr. Alejandro host a visiting faculty, her team meets one-on-one or as a group with the speaker to discuss science and career development. https://med.umn.edu/stemcell
Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology and Genetics (MCDB&G), and Department of Pharmacology
Dr. Alejandro is a Faculty member of the MCDB&G https://cbs.umn.edu/academics/departments/gcd/about/seminars and the Department of Pharmacology, https://med.umn.edu/pharmacology. Trainees are always encouraged to attend seminars relevant to their training.
The Alejandro lab has their monthly journal club, where each lab members are expected to read full research article and be ready to present figures. Team members are also expected to attend specific journal club such as the Adipose Biology (lead by Dr. David Bernlohr’s group) or the Metabolism and Metabolomics Club (lead by Dr. Peter Crawford).
Faculty Candidate Chalk Talks at University of Minnesota
Ample of job chalk talks are available to trainees within the University. The Department of Integrated Biology and Physiology and the new Institute for the Biology of Aging and Metabolism (iBAM) are currently hiring new faculty members, so there are many opportunities to view and participate in chalk talks.
Placenta-Interface Virtual Seminar Series
Alejandro lab members are registered to view seminars via zoom from fall to summer to discuss placental biology, available technology and in vivo approaches to study the placenta, as well as career development (grants available to trainees). Trainees will be encourage to receive additional training and information from the Centre for Trophoblast Research https://www.trophoblast.cam.ac.uk/seminars, and the NIH Human Placenta Project, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/HPP/default.
Alejandro lab’s young trainees are expected to receive research training through Directed studies and through the UROP training award. Honor thesis is also encouraged for all seniors. All trainees are expected to present their research projects via poster and oral presentations through the annual UROP Symposium and at the IBP Undergraduate Research Symposium (organized by Dr. Alejandro).
The Alejandro lab also benefits from resources available for researchers from the Clinical and Translation Science Institute https://www.ctsi.umn.edu/ and support from the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, https://www.msi.umn.edu/.
Regional and National Conferences
All members of the lab (undergrads, post-baccalaureate, graduate students, and post-docs) are encouraged to attend local, regional and national conferences. Dr. Alejandro encourages trainees at all levels to submit abstracts to the Midwest Islet Club, American Diabetes Association, EASD and Keystone Meetings.
Alejandro and Ruan Lab Joint Meeting 2018
Dr. Raphael Scharfmann visiting the UMN Stem Cell Institute, October 2018
Dr. John Hanover and Dr. Theresa Powell speak at the IBP seminar series, October 2018
Dr. Ernesto Bernal-Mizrachi visiting the UMN Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology (IBP), Sept 2018
Team get together to celebrate our R01 grant, Lake Harriet, August 2018
The Alejandro Lab attending the American Diabetes Association meeting, Orlando, FL, June 2018
1st IBP Undergraduate Research Symposium, a celebration of research and scholarship, May 2018
Recent Lab Updates
October 2021. Congratulations to Dr. Mohan and Mr. Jo et al! Pancreatic β-Cell O-GlcNAc Transferase Overexpression Increases Susceptibility to Metabolic Stressors in Female Mice. https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4409/10/10/2801
July 2021: Dr. Emilyn Alejandro is promoted to Associate Professor with tenure and received a University of Minnesota McKnight Presidential Fellow Award.
Congratulations to Dr. Moore et al! " Disruption of O-Linked N-Acetylglucosamine Signaling in Placenta Induces Insulin Sensitivity in Female Offspring” is in-press. https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/22/13/6918/htm
June 2021: Congratulations to Mr. Brian Akhaphong et al! " Placental mTOR-Complex1 regulates fetal programming of obesity and insulin resistance in mice” is in-press. https://insight.jci.org/articles/view/149271.
Kudos to Ms. Alicia Wong for being selected to participate in the UMN Stem Cell Institute Infuse Predoctoral Award Program!
May 2021: Congratulations to Mr. Seokwon Jo for receiving the Steer Diabetes Award from the Medical School, and Dr. Emilyn Alejandro was awarded the 2021 University of Minnesota Council of Graduate Students Outstanding Advisor Award.
April 2021: Congratulations Mr. Seokwon Jo for receiving the Lifson/Johnson memorial award, which recognizes excellence in teaching by a graduate student. Seokwon was a Teaching Assistant for undergraduate physiology students Fall 2020-Spring 2021. Kudos to Seokwon!
March 2021: Kudos to Dr. Mackenzie Moore, “Aortic Cross-Clamping to Provide Differential Fixation by Perfusion” is out! https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33740319/
February 2021: Kudos to Mr. Ahmad Essawy, Mr. Seokwon Jo et al.,“O-linkedN-AcetylglucosamineTransferase (OGT) regulatespancreaticα-cellfunctioninmice” is out! https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33460647/
January 2021: Kudos to Dr. Amber Lockridge et al., her last PhD research project is now accepted for publication in Cells "Acute D-serine Co-agonism of β-cell NMDA Receptors Potentiates Glucose-Stimulated Insulin Secretion and Excitatory β-cell Membrane Activity". https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4409/10/1/93
December 2020: Congratulations to Nicholas Esch, Seokwon Jo, Mackenzie Moore on their recent publication titled “Nutrient Sensors mTOR and OGT: Orchestrators of Organelle Homeostasis in Pancreatic β-Cells” You can read review here: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jdr/2020/8872639/
November 2020: Mr. Seokwon Jo’s manuscript entitled, Translational Factor eIF4G1 Regulates Glucose Homeostasis and Pancreatic β-Cell Function, is accepted in Diabetes. Congratulations Jo et al. View the publication here.
October 2020: Congratulations to our post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Megan Beetch for securing a T32 Training Grant with the University of Minnesota Training Grant in Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism.
September 2020: Congratulations to Seokwon Jo, Brian Akhaphong and our collaborators on our recent publication titled "Maternal low-protein diet on the last week of pregnancy contributes to insulin resistance and β-cell dysfunction in the mouse offspring" in AJP-Reg, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32877242/.
August 2020: Congratulations to Mr. Seokwon Jo, for receiving the IBP ALLAN HEMINGWAY SCHOLARSHIP - for obtaining the highest grades during the 2019-2020 academic year!
July 2020: Ms. Grace Chung successfully defended her Master thesis entitled “ Role of Placental Insulin Signaling in a normal pregnancy and its effects on glucose homeostasis in the mouse offspring." Congratulations Grace!
June 2020: Two year R21 funding for the Alejandro and Regal lab from the NIH NICHD to study the role of Innate Immune Complement System and Developmental Programming of Functional β Cell Mass. Read more about this grant: https://med.umn.edu/news-events/u-m-researchers-examine-development-type-2-diabetes-offspring-hypertensive-pregnancies
May 2020: Dr. Amber Lockridge successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled " When to secrete and when to rest? Protein O-GlcNAcylation in beta cell functional responses to hyperlipidemia.” To learn more on Amber’s thesis project, read the medical school press release at:https://med.umn.edu/news-events/study-reveals-single-enzyme-orchestrating-insulin-release
April 2020: Amber Lockridge's manuscript titled "Islet O-GlcNAcylation is Required for Lipid Potentiation of Insulin Secretion through SERCA2" has been published in Cell Reports. Congratulations Amber! Read paper here.
March 2020: Congratulations to Ms. Alicia Wong, Mr. Dan Baumann and other collaborators on their recent publication titled "Role of nutrient-driven O-GlcNAc-posttranslational modification in pancreatic exocrine and endocrine islet development" in Development.
February 2020: Dr. Emilyn Alejandro was awarded a grant from Regenerative Medicine Minnesota on her research lab's project titled "Placental mTOR Regulation of Pancreatic Endocrine Cells"
October 2019: Congratulations to Dr. Samantha Pritchard on securing a faculty position at Rush University in Chicago, Illinois.
August 2019: Dr. Alejandro is taking a 3-week sabbatical to train masters students in the laboratory of Dr. Ruth Pineda Cortel, University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines.
July 2019: Congratulations Mr. Seokwon Jo on the publication of your paper in JBC: eIF4G1 and carboxypeptidase E axis dysregulation in O-GlcNAc transferase-deficient pancreatic β-cells contributes to hyperproinsulinemia in mice.
July 2019: Welcome to the team Dr. Mackenzie Moore, and congratulations on your T32 training grant.
May 2019: The Alejandro Team at attended the Midwest Islet Club at University of Michigan.
April 2019: Congratulations Dr. Elizabeth Morgan for defending her fellowship project! Congratulations and best wishes in your new job in Massachusetts.
April 2019: Congratulations to our undergraduate trainees Neha Panigrahy, Bailey Abernathy, and Lensa Ali for your acceptance to the University of Minnesota Medical School. Congratulations Kinsley Kehlenbeck for your acceptance at the University of Minnesota Dental School.
February 2019: Congratulations to Mr. Seokwon Jo for his acceptance to the Graduate Program in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at UMN.
January 2019: Dr. Emilyn Alejandro was named a 2019-2021 McKnight Land-Grant Professor last week in an announcement by the University’s Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs.
December 2018: Dr. Alejandro wrote her first commentary. Males require estrogen signaling too: Sexual dimorphism in the regulation of nuclear ER- alpha on glucose homeostasis. Diabetes, Accepted, 2018.
November 2018: Congratulations to Dr. Samantha Pritchard on receiving an NIH T32 Postdoctoral Training Grant.
October 2018: Congratulations to Akhaphong et al, Placental Ischemia Causes Loss of Pancreatic Beta Cell but Normal Function in Fetal Rat Offspring. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. Accepted, 2018.
September 2018: Congratulations to the team for two review articles accepted: Mohan et al, Fetal undernutrition, placental insufficiency and pancreatic β-cell development programming in utero American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. Hart et al, Nutrient Sensor Signaling Pathways and Cellular Stress in Fetal Growth Restriction. Journal of Molecular Endocrinology.
June 2018: Congratulations to the lab for receiving our first R01 and to Mr. Brian Akhaphong for receiving a supplement for diversity award.
May 2018: Congratulations to Ms. Amber Lockridge for receiving the Steer Family Award in Diabetes Research (G/S). This award is presented for outstanding research by a graduate in the field of diabetes mellitus.
April 2018: Congratulations to Ms. Alicia Wong for receiving a scholarship from the Department of Biochemistry and Ms. Elina Chung for a UROP award for fall of 2018.
March 2018: Congratulations to Ms. Tate Zemanovic on her acceptance in Graduate School and to Ms. Alicia Wong for receiving the MSROP funding this summer.
February 2018: It's official. Notice of Award letters have arrived for both Ms. Amber Lockrigde's F31 and our R03 grant. Dr. Eric Gustafson, Ms. An Nguyen and Mr. Ahmad Essawy to join our higly motivated team of researchers committed to find ways to stop Diabetes.
January 2018: Happy New Year! What a great start for the lab. Ms. Amber Lockrigde's F31 and our R03 grant on mTOR signaling in the placenta are slated to be funded. Congratulations to Ms. Lensa Ali and Niklas Damberg for receiving UROP funding.
December 2017: Ms. Michelle Wasan, our 2016 summer intern will be moving to Minneapolis to be a pharmacy student at UMN, ranked 2nd in the nation!
October 2017: Ms. Nicolle Myers just joined the lab, and we are very excited to have her join our energetic team and the vibrant community of Diabetes and Metabolism group at U of MN.
September 2017: Dr. Emilyn Alejandro receives 3-year funding from NIH to study the role of O-linked-N-acetylglucosamine Post-translational Modification in Pancreatic Beta-cells Regulating ER Stress and Mitochondrial Function.