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Research Laboratories

James Michael Estep, PhD and Aybike Birerdinc, PhD

The Beatty Liver and Obesity Research Program research laboratory utilizes high throughput techniques as well as traditional assays to elucidate the mechanisms of chronic diseases and to discover non-invasive diagnostic markers.

Our ultimate goal as researchers is to realize the promise of translational research by establishing a true “bench to bedside” approach to a number of important chronic diseases. We collaborate closely with clinicians, statisticians and data management personnel to develop in-depth molecular profiling of human tissues.

Current research activities

The research laboratory is equipped to run state-of-the-art assays as well as standard procedures. BioPlex multiplex suspension array system allows assessment of several protein analytes simultaneously from human tissue. The microarray imaging stations and thermal cyclers with real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection systems allow for high throughput molecular profiling at the level of transcription.

These technologies have not come at the expense of the equipment and expertise necessary to run consistent high-quality ELISAs, as well as techniques such as electrophoresis and spectrophotometry. The research laboratory also has the equipment, such as refrigerated centrifuges, and experienced staff to isolate specific cell types from human tissue and extract the significant macromolecules.

Details of current investigations

Three current protocols exemplify the diversity and flexibility of our research. In one study, we are examining the fundamental biological and biochemical changes that underlie the development of obesity-related liver diseases by extracting and profiling total microRNA from human adipose tissue, as well as the suppression targets of the microRNA.

This project not only has the potential to elevate fundamental knowledge of this common chronic disease, but to contribute to the understanding of subjects ranging from diabetes mellitus to obesity. In another project, the serum of hundreds of patients is being examined for concentrations of particular biomarkers using ELISAs to assess a diagnostic panel for obesity-related disease. This panel was developed through joint research between George Mason University and Inova. This project has significant implications for these patients, as diagnosis currently requires a liver biopsy. Finally, our laboratory is participating in a study using ultrasonography and multiplex molecular profiling to assess the state of systemic inflammation in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and coronary artery disease. The intention of this study is to better understand the linkage between obesity, liver disease and coronary artery disease.

In each case, our research projects rely on close interdisciplinary collaboration to provide insight and understanding of disease in humans that can lead to improvements in patient care.