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Robert Sargis, MD, PhD


Dr. Sargis is currently studying the effects of synthetic chemicals released into the environment on the development of obesity and diabetes. Research regarding the effects of these endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on reproduction and the thyroid is quite popular and recent. Less is known about their effects on metabolism. His research is devoted to studying the molecular mechanisms by which environmental pollution affects fat cell function in order to understand how such chemicals may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

His goal is that these studies will then serve as the foundation for the development of sound public policy that may be implemented to limit the negative impact of environmental pollution on human metabolic health. Dr. Sargis’ special honors and awards include the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award as an intern at the University of Chicago and membership in the first class of the Physician Scientist Development Program.

A deeper look into his research

The burgeoning obesity and diabetes epidemics place an enormous strain on health care systems worldwide, threatening both individual health and societal wellness. Reversing these health threats necessitates an understanding of the underlying mechanisms responsible for these scourges in order for us to devise interventions to mitigate the development of metabolic diseases. An emerging area of interest to explain the dramatic rapidity and magnitude of these metabolic epidemics is the contribution of chemical pollutants release into the environment on the cellular processes that regulate energy metabolism.

Interestingly, in work they have recently published, it appears that the tremendous rise in diabetes rates has gone hand-in-hand with the production of synthetic chemicals (See Figure). To understand this relationship, Dr. Sargis’s laboratory is focused on understanding the potential mechanisms by which these environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) modulate the function of body fat in order to understand how synthetic chemicals hijack human metabolism and thereby predispose to the development of various metabolic diseases. His recent work has shown that various EDCs have the capacity to promote the development of fat cells, a potentially critical step in the development of obesity. Furthermore, Dr. Sargis and his team have recently discovered an EDC that induces insulin resistance in fat. Because insulin resistance is an important event in the development of diabetes, this finding suggests that this EDC may promote the development of this debilitating disease.

Dr. Sargis’s lab is currently focused on characterizing the molecular mechanisms by which these EDCs alter the action of insulin in order to specifically understand how these chemicals influence metabolism in fat cells as well as to more broadly appreciate how body fat senses cues from the environment to regulate energy metabolism. In addition to his basic science work, he continues to see patients in the Endocrinology Clinic, an experience that he values very highly. In the coming years, he plans to use his clinical time to study patients with diabetes and disorders of lipid metabolism (for example, cholesterol and triglyceride problems) to understand how exposure to certain environmental pollutants may have contributed to the development of these patients’ metabolic diseases.

The goal is to use an approach similar to the ground-breaking genetic studies in the Kovler Diabetes Center to develop a translational program focused on understanding how specific chemical exposures increase the risk of developing metabolic diseases. It is his sincere hope that these studies will then serve as the foundation for the development of sound public policy that may be implemented to limit the negative impact of environmental pollution on human metabolic health.

 

 

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