Alejandro Lab

Emilyn web site Time mag cover image

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 insulin-producing beta-cell dysfunction and to identify novel endogenous modulators of insulin secretion and plasticity for potential treatment. The lab is invested in understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms linking fetal nutrient environment to the later development of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Identifying modifiable risk factors is key in decreasing the incidence of this disease.
islets

The long-term research goal of the Alejandro Lab is to stop the vicious cycle of diabetes by launching a multi-pronged research program. 


beta-cellOne of the research objectives of the lab is to understand how placental-insufficiency during pregnancy alters the offspring's beta-cell function and susceptibility to Type 2 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 major research objective involves studying the roles of (OGT), a nutrient-sensing protein, in beta-cell development, function, and plasticity.  A third research aim is to understand how OGT and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (also known as NMDAR) regulates insulin secretion using patch-clamp electrophysiology.

Publications

Personnel

alejandroDr. Emilyn Alejandro is an Assistant Professor in the Integrative Biology and Physiology (IBP) Department at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She joined IBP in September 2015 after completing her post-doctoral training with Dr. Ernesto Bernal-Mizarchi at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Emilyn received her degrees from the University of Washington (BS) in Seattle, WA and at the University of British Columbia (Ph.D.) in Dr. James D. Johnson’s laboratory in Vancouver, Canada. Outside of her research work and mentoring her trainees, Dr. Alejandro enjoys spending time with her husband and two curious little girls and watching her girls play ice hockey and exploring local attractions in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

gustafsonDr. 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. MOOREDr. Mackenzie Moore is a General Surgery Resident at the University of Minnesota. She completed her MD at the University of Iowa. She is studying the influence of placental deletion of O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) on beta-cell function as well as evaluating the role of OGT in the development of pancreatitis. Outside of the lab, she enjoys playing soccer, live music, and traveling. Dr. Moore is supported by an NIH NRSA T32 Training Grant in Pancreatology from the University of Minnesota Department of Surgery. July 1, 2019 – present.

lockridgeMs. Amber Lockridge ~ A PhD student in the IBP graduate Program working with Dr. Alejandro to explore physiological mechanisms that adaptively regulate the coupling of beta cell glucose metabolism with insulin secretion with an eye towards better understanding the pathology of type II diabetes.  One of her projects is investigating the insulin secretion defect phenotype of mice with a pancreas-specific deletion of the enzyme O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT).  A second project involves the role beta-cell membrane ion channel NMDA receptor on glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. Amber is supported by an NIH NRSA F31 fellowship for two years!! September 1, 2015-present.

sjMr. Seokwon Jo is a post-baccalaureate junior scientist working to identify novel OGT targets in insulin-producing cells. He joined the Alejandro Lab after graduating from the University of Minnesota wih degrees in Biochemistry and Genetics.  Seokwon hopes to attend graduate school in the fall of 2019.  Outside of the lab, Seokwon's hobbies include food, tea, horror movies and being creative. June 1, 2016-present.

brian akhaphongMr. 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 start medical school in the fall of 2020. October 1, 2015- present.

essawyMr. Ahmad Essawy is a product of the University of Minnesota undergraduate GCD program. He began his post-baccalaureate research career at the UMN Stem Cell Institute working on optimizing differentiation of IPS cells into beta cells, and studying the mechanism of beta cell apoptosis. He joined Alejandro lab as a post-baccalaureate junior scientist with hopes of furthering his research and setting a foundation for future graduate work. In the lab, he is currently studying the role of OGT in glucagon cells. March 1, 2018-present.

wongMs. 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 in December. She is now a Researcher 1 in the lab working on the role of OGT in pancreas development. December 2016- present.

 

hani abiMs. Hani Abi is a senior majoring in Biology, Society and Environment in the college of liberal arts. In Dr. Alejandro's lab I work with Amber Lockridge on various products. I plan to take a gap year after graduation and matriculate into medical school. In my free time I enjoy traveling, doing outdoor activities and trying new restaurants with family and friends.

 schlichtingMs. Regina Schlichting is a junior undergraduate student studying Genetics, Cellular Biology, and Development and Spanish Studies, with hopes of attending medical school in the future. In the lab she is working with Mr. Seokwon Jo on various products. In her free time she enjoys baking, yoga, and spending time with friends. September 2018- present.

  Nandina AvulaMs. Nandini Avula is a sophomore undergraduate student studying Human Physiology, Spanish studies, and Public Health. She hopes to attend medical school following her graduation. In the lab, she is currently working with Dr. Samantha Pritchard to better understand the role of OGT and Pdx-1 on pancreatic beta cell mass. Outside of the lab, Nandini enjoys watching movies, reading, and eating out with friends and family. June 2019- present.

Former Personnel

Dr. Samantha Pritchard was a post-doctoral fellow who received her Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from Iowa State University. As a post-doc in the Alejandro Lab, she studied the role of OGT in regulating pancreatic and endocrine progenitors through Pdx1 and the role of OGA in glucose homeostasis. Dr. Pritchard was supported by an NIH NRSA T32 Training Grant in Diabetes Endocrinology, and Metabolism from October 1, 2018- October 2019. She is currently working at Rush University in Chicago as an Assistant Professor.

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.
 
Dr. Ramkumar Mohan was a Post-Doctoral Fellow from 2-16-2019. He received his Ph.D. from Michigan Technological University September 2016.  He worked on the role of OGT on mitochondrial function and beta-cell regeneration. He is currently living in Detroit, Michigan with his wife, and pursuing a post-doctoral training at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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.

Research Opportunities

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 ealejand@umn.edu 

Application Documents

  • CV
  • cover letter including career goal and research summary
  • names of 2-3 references

Training Environment

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.

We have weekly lab meetings, during which at least two individuals present current research or experimental methods. Monthly, 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 with weekly meetings of Dr. David Bernlohr's group. Joint meeting with Dr. Haibin-Ruan's group four times a year.

Integrated Biology And Physiology Seminars

During the school year, the department hosts a biweekly seminar in which invited faculty present 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.

Pancreas Interest Group 

Twice during the school year, multiple laboratories 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.

Cityide 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 PIs.

Stem Cell Institute 

During the school year, the institute hosts a weekly seminar in which invited faculty present their research. During the summer, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows present their work.

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.

Lab Activities

alejandro lab fall 2019

alejandro lab 2019

midwest islet club

Alejandro and Ruan Lab Joint Meeting 2018

lab holiday party


Dr. Raphael Scharfmann visiting the UMN Stem Cell Institute, October 2018

scharfmann


Dr. John Hanover and Dr. Theresa Powell speak at the IBP seminar series, October 2018

powell hanover


Dr. Ernesto Bernal-Mizrachi visiting the UMN Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology (IBP), Sept 2018

lab visit


Team get together to celebrate our R01 grant, Lake Harriet, August 2018

alejandro lab


The Alejandro Lab attending the American Diabetes Association meeting, Orlando, FL, June 2018

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1st IBP Undergraduate Research Symposium, a celebration of research and scholarship, May 2018

ibp research

Recent Lab Updates

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. Best wishes to Dr. Ram Mohan on his new position as a post-doctoral associate at the University of Michigan.

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.