Type 2 diabetes expert Michael Stitzel, Ph.D., joins JAX Genomic Medicine faculty

Farmington, Conn.—Michael L. Stitzel, Ph.D., will join The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine’s faculty as an assistant professor to study the genetics and epigenetics of islet dysfunction and type 2 diabetes.

Stitzel comes to the new institute from a postdoctoral appointment at the National Human Genome Research Institute, in the laboratory of Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health.

"I am very pleased with the recruitment of Dr. Stitzel to JAX Genomic Medicine," says Charles Lee, Ph.D., scientific director of JAX Genomic Medicine, "His work on epigenetic profiling of islet cells is revolutionary for the field of diabetes research."

Edison Liu, M.D., President and CEO of the Jackson Laboratory notes, "Michael’s recruitment significantly strengthens our community working on the genetics of metabolic disorders and uniquely moves us into translating work in mouse models into the human condition."

After earning his B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Pennsylvania State University in 2000, Stitzel won a William J. Fulbright fellowship to study chromatin in Dr. Renato Paro’s lab at the Zentrum für Molekulare Biologie in Heidelberg, Germany. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 2007 for his work on studying protein changes that control the transition from egg to embryo.

It is during his postdoctoral tenure in the Collins lab that Stitzel began to work on the epigenome—chemical modifications of DNA that control how each cell’s DNA is utilized—of human islets, regions of the pancreas that contain hormone-producing cells. His work has suggested that DNA changes associated with genetic susceptibility to type 2 diabetes are located in molecular switches that turn islet genes on or off.

In 2011, these insights provided the basis of Stitzel’s NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to help him transition from a postdoc to a principal investigator with his own lab.

"I was drawn to this position because I share an interest in using genomic approaches to advance precision medicine and investigate the genetic basis of human health and disease," Stitzel says. "Moreover, I’m excited about the potential to initiate new collaborations with JAX faculty and other universities and medical centers in the state. I’m driven to interpret the molecular consequences of genetic variants associated with islet dysfunction and type 2 diabetes, to investigate the functions of the genes they affect, and to apply this knowledge to develop therapeutics.

JAX Genomic Medicine is currently located in temporary quarters on the UConn Health Center campus while an 189,000-square-foot permanent facility is under construction nearby. The new facility will open in the fall of 2014 and will employ 300 scientists and operational staff.

The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution based in Bar Harbor, Maine, with a facility in Sacramento, Calif., and the new genomic medicine institute in Farmington, Conn. It employs a total staff of more than 1,500. Its mission is to discover precise genomic solutions for disease and empower the global biomedical community in the shared quest to improve human health.