Clinical Research Spotlight

Adina Turcu, MD
Adina Turcu, MD

Adina Turcu, MD, is an Assistant Professor for the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology, and Diabetes in the Department of Internal Medicine. 

Dr. Turcu leads a translational research program that leverages basic adrenal physiology and pathology knowledge into clinical care applications. The primary focus of their research is the development of steroid biomarkers that could greatly simplify the diagnosis and care of patients with androgen excess (such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia or polycystic ovary syndrome) and endocrine hypertension. In addition, she is an investigator in several multi-center clinical trials that study new therapies for patients with Cushing’s syndrome and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

Currently Dr. Turcu is funded by an NIH K08 Career Development Award and she has taken steps towards independent investigation. Her laboratory team consists of two postdoctoral fellows and a technician. As the lead of her small team, she proposes research ideas, design experiments, and guides data interpretation and trouble shooting. Dr. Turcu enjoys scientific writing, mentoring, and teaching. As a clinician, she sees patients twice a week in an adrenal-dedicated clinic and a general endocrinology clinic, which she says are the fuel and motivation for her research.

“The adrenal glands have a truly fascinating pathophysiology, that is deeply stimulating intellectually. What I love most about our research in steroid biology is that beyond its direct relevance in specific adrenal diseases, our work has wide and highly impactful applications, such as in infertility, obesity, hypertension and aging.” - Adina Turcu, MD

Endocrine testing often involves tedious, multi-step processes, and -not uncommonly- invasive procedures. Besides being burdensome and costly, such testing relies on specialty centers and resources with sparse availability. Our overarching goal is to build steroid biomarker panels which could offer key clinical answers from a single blood draw, and circumvent the need for complicated testing in most patients suspected to have an adrenal disorder.  

Outside of her busy professional life, Dr. Turcu loves to take every opportunity to explore new destinations. She enjoys to discover different cultures and considers herself a nature enthusiast.

Lastly, when asked what wish she would hope for, Dr. Turcu stated, “a fair and happy world.”

Previous Winners

Clinical Research Spotlight, J. Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD

Dr. Kahlenberg
J. Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD

J. Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD, is an Assistant Professor for the Division of Rheumatology in the Department of Internal Medicine. Dr. Kahlenberg's research works to understand what "flips the switch" to turn on disease flares in patients with systemic and cutaneous lupus. Her team has identified specific interferon (interferon kappa) pathways that are overactive in lupus skin and contribute to a predisposition for inflammation after exposure to UV light.

Dr. Kahlenberg runs a research lab - currently with one student, one post-doc, two technicians, two undergrads, a research fellow, and a medical student. She plans experiments and directions for their work, helps trouble-shoot experiments, writes papers and grants, runs all lab public relations, creates figures, deals with all human resource issues, creates and implements budgets, participates in mentorship meetings, and implements all regulatory paperwork. Dr. Kahlenberg also sees patients one day a week.

When asked why she is interested in this area of research, Dr. Kahlenberg stated, "Lupus is a fascinating yet devastating disease without very effective therapies. In addition, it is unknown why patients can have "stable autoimmunity" without any organ involvement and suddenly develop severe flares of disease activity which result in organ dysfunction and damage. We are interested in targeting the triggers of disease flares in order to prevent these flares from occurring. Further, these flare triggers may also serve as novel targets for treatment as well".  

Dr. Kahlenberg hopes to develop more effective, less toxic treatments for patients with lupus. Ideally, new therapies which will prevent the disease from flaring in the first place which will stop damage from occurring in the future.

Dr. Kahlenberg and her husband have two children, 11 and 8, which keep her extremely busy. In her spare time, she enjoys doing yoga and she helps her husband run their organic, grass-fed meat farm. Dr. Kahlenberg is in charge of vegetable production during the summer. 

Lastly, when asked what wish she would hope for, Dr. Kahlenberg stated, "world peace".  

Clinical Research Spotlight, Sara Saberi, MD

Sara Saberi
Sara Saberi, MD

Dr. Sara Saberi is a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine.  

Dr. Saberi's research focuses on understanding environmental modifiers on the monogentic disease Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), particularly in the role that exercise and physical activity play both in the lives of patients with HCM and the disease process itself. While there is a wide range of controversy around the safety of exercise and physical activity, there is little data. Dr. Saberi (PI) and her team devised a randomized clinical trial of moderate-intensity exercise training in patients with HCM and actually found a significant associated improvement in functional capacity (peak oxygen consumption) and improved quality of life without any adverse events or effects on the disease characteristic.

In April 2017, Dr. Saberi published her research in JAMA titled: Effect of Moderate-Intensity Exercise Training on Peak Oxygen Consumption in Patients with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: A Randomized Clinical Trial.

Dr. Saberi is a member of the Inherited Cardiomyopathy Program in which she provides comprehensive care to patients with genetic cardiomyopathies and their families. It is her clinical interactions with patients that really inform her research work and it keeps her focused on what's important to the patients themselves.

In the coming months, Dr. Saberi will focus on her next steps of understanding who may benefit the most and from what types of exercise regimens. She has received financial support from her Division Chief to pay for statistical support and since the trial's publication, Dr. Saberi has received more protected time in order to allow her to move forward in her research.

While research and clinical work keeps Dr. Saberi busy at the University, it is her children that keep her on her toes at home outside of her work. She also enjoys running and cooking. When asked what wish she would hope for, Dr. Saberi's response focused on people treating each other with love and kindness (specifically that the pain and suffering of the people of Syria and other oppressed humans around the globe to end).