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Principal Investigator

Jian-xing Ma, MD, PhD, Laureate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Physiology, graduated from Jiangxi Medical College in China and received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical University of South Carolina. The combination of his medical background and solid training in basic sciences enables him to apply his molecular biological skills in the investigation of human diseases. He has focused on diabetic complications since 1994 and has a long track record of independent funding in diabetes research from the NIH, American Diabetes Association (ADA) and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). His group has made significant contributions to the study of diabetic microvascular complications. He was the first to show experimentally that the balance between pro-angiogenic factors and angiogenic inhibitors is the key determinant of ocular and renal inflammation and angiogenesis, and that a disturbed balance between pro-angiogenic factors and angiogenic inhibitors in diabetes plays a key pathogenic role in diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy. Further, his group showed that delivery of these angiogenic inhibitors into diabetic rats significantly ameliorated retinal vascular leakage, neovascularization, proteinuria, mesangial expansion, and inflammation in the kidney. His group was the first to show genetic differences in susceptibility to diabetic retinopathy in animal models. His group was also the first to identify retinal isomerohydrolase, a key enzyme in the visual cycle of vitamin A processing and an enzyme sought for by the vision community for over 20 years. Recently, his group demonstrated that the aberrant activation of the Wnt pathway represents a common pathogenic mechanism for diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy and represents a novel target for therapies. His group also reported the diabetes-induced PPARα down-regulation plays a key role in diabetic retinopathy through regulation of mitochondria function. He has been invited to present his research at numerous national and international conferences and at numerous institutions in different countries. He has served as a reviewer in a number of NIH study sections and for the Department of Veterans Affairs and NSF. He has also served on grant review panels for foundations in several countries, including panels at ADA, JDRF, Austrian Science Fund (FWF), UK Fight for Sight, Chinese Natural Science Foundation, Diabetes UK, Dutch Diabetes Research Foundation, and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

The PI is also currently conducting collaborative and translational research with colleagues at OUHSC and at other universities across the US and abroad. He is collaborating with clinicians in clinical studies, such as Dr. Anthony Keech and Dr. Alicia Jenkins at Sydney, in studying the effect and its mechanism for PPARα agonist on diabetic retinopathy. He has obtained two Partnership Grants from NIH and JDRF in diabetes research. He was also the PI of a NIH bench-to-bedside grant to develop a new treatment for diabetic retinopathy. His group has recently developed a humanized antibody to block the Wnt pathway and demonstrated its therapeutic potential for diabetic complications. This antibody has been patented through OU and was recently licensed to a private company for further development into a clinical drug for diabetic complications. He has two other pending patents, both in the diabetes field. His translational research has been funded by the Oklahoma Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) Program and recommended for funding in NIH Rapid Access to Interventional Development (RAID) program to complete FDA-required studies for initiation of a Phase I clinical trial of another drug candidate.

The PI has a long track record in mentoring graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty members. He has trained 16 graduate students and 37 postdoctoral fellows in his lab, 12 of which have become faculty in academic institutions. He initiated and has been organizing the state-wide annual Diabetes Research Retreat for the last 14 years, and has served as the PI of the COBRE and Director of Diabetic Animal Core since 2007. The COBRE has mentored many junior faculty members, among them 10 junior faculty members have received independent NIH funding. In 2010, he was promoted to Chairman of the Department of Physiology. A major goal of his new position is to expand research in the Department of Physiology by mentoring junior investigators and by recruiting new faculty members into Oklahoma. He has recruited eight funded faculty members to Oklahoma since 2010, most in diabetes research.