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Eitan M. Akirav Ph.D.

Lead Scientist and Assistant Professor

Research

Our group focuses on the study of autoimmune diseases with emphasis on biomarker development and tissue engineering. Our biomarker assays rely on differences in DNA between tissues. For example, we use unique methylation patterns of the insulin and amylin genes to detect the loss of insulin-producing β-cells in type 1 diabetes. We also use unique methylation patterns of the myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG) for the detection of myelinproducing cells in the central nervous system of patients with multiple sclerosis. Our comprehensive approach for biomarker development includes all levels of research, starting with cell lines, animal models and clinical samples from patients with the disease. We are currently expanding our efforts to include other non-immune related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

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A schematic depiction of DNA-based biomarker assay used to detect β-cell loss in diabetes. DNA from dead cells is released to the circulation and is collected and analyzed. Elevated β-cell DNA in the blood suggest loss of these cells in type 1 diabetes (1).

In addition to biomarker development, our laboratory is also focused on finding new ways to treat or even reverse autoimmunity. Recently, we developed a new tissue engineering approach which allows us to generate “artificial islets” for the study of diabetes. In our body, pancreatic islets house insulin producing β-cells, which are responsible for maintaining normal glucose levels in the blood. These cells serve as the direct target of the immune system in type 1 diabetes which leads to cell loss and high glucose levels. Our new tissueengineering system provides unlimited numbers of pseudoislets that function like real islets. This, in turn, allows us to test new compounds and therapeutics to improve the function of the β-cell in the dish, with the hope that these may prove beneficial in vivo.

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Fluorescent staining of artificial islets. Note how the islets form a spheroid structure with high levels of insulin. This structure is reminiscent of the one found in native islets in the body (4).

Dr. Akirav received his Ph.D. and postdoctoral training in immunobiology from Yale University, his M.Sc. in physiology from the University of Toronto, and his B.Sc. University in biology from Tel Aviv. His laboratory offers a dynamic environment with cutting-edge techniques aimed at advancing our understanding of clinically relevant questions. His work is supported by the JDRF, The National MS Society, The Hilton Foundation and Novo Nordisk to name a few. His work was published in different scientific journals and appeared in Newsday and other life-science websites.

Publications

  1. Olsen, J. A., Kenna, L. A., Spelios, M. G., Hessner, M. J., and Akirav, E. M. (2016) Circulating Differentially Methylated Amylin DNA as a Biomarker of beta-Cell Loss in Type 1 Diabetes. PloS one 11, e0152662
  2. Olsen, J. A., Kenna, L. A., Tipon, R. C., Spelios, M. G., Stecker, M. M., and Akirav, E. M. (2016) A Minimally-invasive Blood-derived Biomarker of Oligodendrocyte Cell-loss in Multiple Sclerosis. EBioMedicine
  3. Olsen, J. A., and Akirav, E. M. (2015) Remyelination in multiple sclerosis: cellular mechanisms and novel therapeutic approaches. Journal of neuroscience research 93, 687-696
  4. Spelios, M. G., Olsen, J. A., Kenna, L. A., and Akirav, E. M. (2015) Islet endothelial cells induce glycosylation and increase cell-surface expression of integrin beta1 in beta-cells. The Journal of biological chemistry
  5. Lebastchi, J., Deng, S., Lebastchi, A. H., Beshar, I., Gitelman, S., Willi, S., Gottlieb, P., Akirav, E. M., Bluestone, J. A., and Herold, K. C. (2013) Immune therapy and beta-cell death in type 1 diabetes. Diabetes 62, 1676-1680
  6. Akirav, E. M., Lebastchi, J., Galvan, E. M., Henegariu, O., Akirav, M., Ablamunits, V., Lizardi, P. M., and Herold, K. C. (2011) Detection of beta cell death in diabetes using differentially methylated circulating DNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 19018-19023
  7. Akirav, E. M., Ruddle, N. H., and Herold, K. C. (2011) The role of AIRE in human autoimmune disease. Nature reviews. Endocrinology 7, 25-33