Summers’ laboratory uses a battery of techniques in human subjects and preclinical models to explore how fat metabolism influences susceptibility to diabetes and heart disease. His group observed that preventing synthesis of a metabolite of fat termed ceramide negates the impact of overnutrition or sedentary behavior on these pathologies. They are now investigating how drug or behavioral interventions influence ceramide levels in order to develop new clinical guidelines to mitigate disease risk.
- BS, Biochemistry, Indiana University
- Ph.D., Physiology, Southern Illinois University
- Postdoctoral, Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Professor Summers Chairs the University of Utah Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology and Co-Directs the Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center. He has been the leading voice advancing the idea that a class of fat molecules termed ceramides drive diabetes and heart disease. Though the idea was initially controversial, the role of ceramides as drivers of pathology is now widely accepted and clinics have started measuring ceramides as a means of assessing disease risk. His work has appeared in the highest impact journals and he has given hundreds of presentations around the globe. Based on his discoveries, he co-founded Centaurus Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that is developing new ceramide-lowering medications to combat the underpinnings of diabetes and heart disease.
The major accomplishment of my scientific career has been to advance the idea that sphingolipids such as ceramides regulate nutrient homeostasis and contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic disease. The opinion was initially controversial and few publications other than my own appeared on the topic. Nonetheless, the data were robust and the therapeutic potential of the pathway obvious. Through research reports, review articles and invited seminars, our work has influenced the directions of new and established researchers and the number of publications containing the words ceramide and insulin has risen exponentially.