Christopher Rhodes, PhD

Christopher Rhodes
MedImmune

Dr. Christopher Rhodes, Ph.D., is a Professor of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism and the Research Director of the Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Rhodes received his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the University of Bath, UK and his doctorate degree in Biochemistry from the University of London, UK.

His laboratory is focused on the regulation of pancreatic beta-cell function, growth and survival with a particular emphasis on identifying the key signal transduction pathways that control these parameters. By understanding how these operate normally, he can better appreciate how they become dysfunctional in the pathogenesis of diabetes. Moreover, Dr. Rhodes and his team apply this knowledge to functional characterization of candidate surrogate beta-cells to establish if they might eventually be suitable for beta-cell replacement therapy. They use a combination of biochemical, molecular biology and cell biological techniques to pursue this research.

Regulation of pancreatic beta-cell growth and survival
Dr. Rhodes and his team's goal is to better understand the signal transduction pathways that control pancreatic beta-cell growth and survival at the molecular level. This has a view to discovering pharmacological means to promote the growth and/or regeneration of endogenous beta-cells in vivo; to expand populations of primary beta-cells in vitro to obtain sufficient numbers for subsequent therapeutic cell replacement therapy; and, to promote beta-cell survival to maintain an existing effective beta-cell mass and/or to better protect transplanted therapeutic beta-cells in the face of a diabetic condition.

Pancreatic beta-cell growth is contributed by the replication of existing beta-cells and by the differentiation of pancreatic ductal epithelial precursor cells into mature beta-cells. They are examining the molecular mechanisms behind the control of these growth and differentiation processes in order to identify key growth factors that might be eventually exploited therapeutically to treat diabetes.

Regulation of insulin production and secretion
Their goal here is to better determine the signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that control insulin production and secretion in pancreatic beta-cells. This has a view to up-regulating insulin production as a therapeutic means to treat diabetes, as well as to better evaluate surrogate beta-cells, obtained from alternative renewable sources, to have appropriate regulation of insulin biosynthesis and secretion for therapeutic usage.

Insulin production is specifically and efficiently controlled by glucose at the translational level, and is the principle means of maintaining adequate insulin storage and secretory capacity of beta-cells. There are unique control elements in the template for proinsulin biosynthesis, called preproinsulin mRNA, that we have identified. They are currently investigating specific proteins that associate with these elements to control insulin production. It is possible that metabolic control of this protein/RNA interaction may be taken advantage of re-instigate adequate insulin production in remaining endogenous beta-cells to treat diabetes.

Dr. Rhodes was the recipient of the JDRF’s David Rumbough Award, is Chair for the American Diabetes Association Council for Molecular, Cellular & Biochemical Aspects of Diabetes, and is a current editor for ‘Diabetes’.

In the Researcher's Words 

“The Brehm Coalition is an enterprise that I am flattered to be part of. A collective of dedicated diabetes researchers where bright ideas and synergistic interactions chart new research directions aimed at type-1 diabetes. Enthusiasm abounds here, where high risk strategies on a track to (hopefully) high rewards is the culture, not often found in other avenues of biomedical research. Yet, the Coalition is not an ‘exclusive club’. Each member of the Brehm Coalition has colleagues, collaborators and unique resources from their home institutions to bring in, that then creates a wider network of cutting-edge science and scientists enabling the research to move forward faster in new directions, that I never would have considered otherwise and really appreciate. I anticipate the Brehm Coalition will have influence and impact not only on diabetes, but also as a format to conduct research in other biomedical areas.”