While many of us move day to day through our to do lists and busy schedules, Robert Sargis, MD, PhD is devoted to exploring how the 85,000 different chemicals found in consumer products may lead to the development of diabetes or other health issues—“This is what keeps me up at night,” says Dr. Sargis.
As an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Dr. Sargis states that “while lifestyle factors such as poor diet and physical inactivity certainly contribute to diabetes and obesity, these factors fail to explain the magnitude and pace of the diabetes epidemic. As such, the search is on for contributing factors.” Building off a life-long interest in the environment, Dr. Sargis has focused his research on the potential contribution of environmental pollutants to the surge of metabolic diseases. Specifically Dr. Sargis is exploring the impact of specific chemicals known as environmental endocrine disruptors, or EDCs.
Dr. Sargis’s laboratory is working on targeted projects that link the effects of these EDCs on fat cell development and function, disruption of insulin signaling (a precursor to the development of diabetes), and the effects of EDCs on energy metabolism in mice. As part of the research, mice are exposed to these chemicals through their food, similar to the way humans are exposed.
Dr. Sargis has three hopes for his research: 1) to understand how these chemicals are working, 2) to link them to disease in humans, and 3) by showing this connection, to empower regulator to minimize use of chemicals linked to diabetes. It is this third hope that gets Dr. Sargis really fired up. He wants to learn about the connection between EDCs and how we live while using his research to change how we treat and prevent diabetes and obesity. It is one thing for scientists to understand this work, but as Dr. Sargis says, “We need to create public interest and concern about potential risks and links.” He fears that if we do not understand the connection between environmental pollutants and our health, we will be past the tipping point.
So what advice does Dr. Sargis have for each of us about what we can do? He says we need to be smarter and limit our chemical use, especially in insecticides and pesticides; he advocates for farmers markets and buying organic foods. He says we should advocate for science to our legislature, and we should encourage the development of better farming policies. He says we need to remember all three of the “Rs”—he laments that we only focus on recycling and need to remember to reduce and reuse, as well. But mostly, Dr. Sargis says, “We need to be conscious about these issues—conscious decisions got us here and conscious decisions can get us out.”
Robert Sargis, MD, PhD received his undergraduate degree from Carleton College and went on to a joint degree program, receiving both his PhD and MD from Rush University and Medical College in 2003 and 2005, respectively. Dr. Sargis completed both his Residency and Fellowship at the University of Chicago, and in 2010 joined the Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Medicine in 2012.