• Department Chair, Nutrition & Integrative Physiology
  • Adjunct Professor, Department Of Biochemistry
  • Professor, Nutrition & Integrative Physiology

Research Summary

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


My entire professional career has been devoted to the study of diabetes, with my interest having been born shortly after my father’s diagnosis with the disease.  My laboratory has become particularly interested in the relationship between dyslipidemia and metabolic disease and much of our current work derives from the observation that sphingolipids (e.g. ceramide) contribute to insulin resistance and beta cell failure, which are important features of the disease. Our current research efforts seek to identify the (a) site of sphingolipid function, (b) their mechanism of action, and (c) the regulatory events controlling sphingolipid accumulation.  Moreover, (d) we seek to develop drugs targeting enzymes in the ceramide-synthesizing pathway, which hold enormous potential in a broad spectrum of metabolic disorders.

Contribution to Science

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.