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.
Professor Summers had been a dominant voice advancing the idea that sphingolipids such as ceramide, which are produced by over-nutrition and inflammation, contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic disease. The opinion was initially controversial, and few publications other than his appeared on the topic. Nonetheless, the data were robust and the therapeutic potential of the pathway obvious. His work has appeared in the highest impact journals (e.g. Nature Medicine, Cell Metabolism, Journal of Clinical Investigation and others) and have been cited over 8000 times. He has given over 100 presentations in at least 20 different countries, including keynote talks in Japan, Finland and the USA, and received over 10 million dollars in research grant support. His work has influenced the directions of new and established researchers and the number of publications containing the words ceramide and insulin has risen exponentially. His current group continues to explore the therapeutic potential of the pathway with an eye towards developing new therapies to treat diabetes and metabolic disease.