BUFFALO, N.Y. – Health officials describe diabetes and
metabolic disorders as having reached epidemic proportions, often
citing diet and lifestyle as culprits.
But environmental chemicals, known as circadian disruptors, may
also play a role in soaring rates of obesity, metabolic disorders
and Type 2 diabetes.
Now, a University at Buffalo team of researchers has been
awarded a federal grant to explore how environmental chemicals that
disrupt neuroendocrine circadian functions and hormone release may
raise the risk of diabetes and other disorders.
The UB team has expertise in the neurobiology of the circadian
hormone melatonin and integrated computational modeling of
chemicals that bind to melatonin receptors.
“Results from this research may help clarify some of
the causes behind the epidemic we are experiencing in diabetes and
metabolic disorders,” says Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, SUNY
Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology
and Toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical
Dubocovich and Rajendram V. Rajnarayanan, PhD, assistant
professor of pharmacology and toxicology at UB, are principal
investigators on the two-year, $436,751 grant from the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National
Institutes of Health.
“Many of these chemicals are flying under the
toxicological radar and have no established guidelines for
exposure,” says Rajnarayanan.
He explains that the purpose of this grant is to bring together
big data on millions of chemicals to find out which ones are
circadian disruptors and may be causing diabetes.
“This grant will merge our expertise in order to establish
a comprehensive pharmacoinformatics pipeline, which we call
Chem2Risk, to leverage big data on toxic chemical exposure,”
Dubocovich has spent much of her research career studying
melatonin, a sleep regulator, and its receptors, and she pioneered
the discovery of drugs to assess the functional role of melatonin
“The goal of this research is to identify environmental
chemicals that mimic or affect melatonin and its ability to
transmit ‘time-of-day’ messages to target peripheral
tissues, such as pancreatic beta cells,” she says.
Dubocovich notes that work on this grant exemplifies the
multidisciplinary team approach that UB promotes.
“Science flourishes in an intellectually diverse and
collaborative environment,” notes Dubocovich. “Our
meetings catalyzed discussions toward the central research question
and our hunt for environmental chemicals that mimic melatonin