U-M Gastroenterologist earns 2012 Doris Duke Award for genetic research of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Elizabeth K. Speliotes, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., a gastroenterologist at the U-M Health System, is among 16 physician-scientists to receive a 2012 Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Clinical Scientist Development Award of $486,000 over three years.

Speliotes focuses her research on obesity, metabolic diseases and the increasingly prevalent nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a buildup of fat in the liver cells.

The Clinical Scientist Development Award provides funding for physician-scientists in the process of establishing their own research teams and enables them to secure 75 percent of their professional time for clinical research.

The transition to an independent research career is often more difficult for physician-scientists conducting clinical research than it is for other researchers, as these individuals must balance both the demands of seeing patients with those of conducting research.

With the new grant, Speliotes will conduct genetic epidemiology studies of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in diverse ancestries.

Fatty liver disease not due to alcohol abuse is often associated with obesity, diabetes and elevated triglyceride levels. Despite the rising rates of the disease, there are few effective treatments.

Her previous research suggests that genetic defects in glucose or triglyceride metabolism may predispose some to the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Identifying genetic variants and ultimately genes that affect NAFLD opens up new avenues for developing novel drug therapies for this disease.

For the 2012 competition, U.S.-accredited, degree-granting institutions were invited to nominate up to two junior faculty-level physician-scientists conducting clinical research in any disease area.

A panel of experts, including seven past awardees of Doris Duke clinical research grants, reviewed 126 proposals and recommended the strongest candidates for funding. The 2012 Clinical Scientist Development grants total $7.78 million to support the transition to independence as clinical researchers.