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E. Danielle Dean, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism
Assistant Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

Dr. Dean's interests are how nutritional status and environmental-gene interactions contribute to aging and diseases like diabetes. She received her B.S. and M.S. from the University of Tennessee in Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology in the lab of Dr. Ranjan Ganguly. She then received her Ph.D. from Emory University in Molecular and Systems Pharmacology where she was a toxicology scholar in the lab of Dr. Gary W. Miller.


Dr. Dean joined the laboratory of Dr. Al Powers for her postdoctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. While much effort has been focused on understanding beta cell biology because of insulin's well known role in diabetes, very little is known about signals regulating other islet cells. Alpha cells secrete glucagon in response to hypoglycemia, but persons with diabetes have hyperglucagonemia contributing to hyperglycemia. In an effort to understand the  molecular mechanisms that determine alpha cell mass in the pancreatic islet, she identified a liver-alpha cell axis, a crosstalk between liver glucagon signaling and alpha cells sensing of amino acids. She started her independent laboratory at Vanderbilt in 2019. Much of the lab's focus is to understand how a liver-alpha cell axis regulates islet cell growth and how this axis might contribute to liver and alpha cell dysfunction in obesity and diabetes.




Jade E. Stanley, B.S.

Molecular Physiology and Biophysics Graduate Student

Jade received her B.S. in Chemistry from Tuskegee University and enrolled in the Quantitative and Chemical Biology Graduate Program at Vanderbilt University in 2019. Currently, Jade's work in the lab is focused on the role of arginine transporters in islet cell proliferation and hormone secretion especially to understand the underlying mechanisms of why loss of the arginine transporter SLC7A2 results in complete loss of glucagon secretion.

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Katelyn Sellick, M.S.

Research Associate II

Katelyn received her B.S. and M.S. in Microbiology from East Tennessee State University in 2019. Currently, Katelyn's work in the lab is focused on the role of glutamine transport in islet cell proliferation and hormone secretion with a focus on the transporter SLC38A5. She is also interested in the role of dysregulated glucagon signaling in the pathology of obese liver and diabetes. 

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Austin Reuter, M.S.

Pharmacy Doctoral Candidate and Research Associate

Austin received his B.S. and M.S. from the University of Wisconsin where he worked in the lab of Dr. Michelle Kimple on prostaglandin regulation of beta cell function. He is a student at Belmont University completing his final year of the PharmD program. Currently, Austin's work in the lab has focused on the role of a novel putative arginine binding protein in alpha cell proliferation and glucagon secretion. He is also interested in the role of arginine transport in the pathology of obese liver and diabetes. 


Madushika Wilmarenthe, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

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Alex Dixon

Undergraduate Student (Vanderbilt Biochemistry and Chemical Biology)


Alex grew up in Chatsworth, Georgia and initially attended Berry College as a Biochemistry student on a pre-med track. While there, he worked in the Johnson lab, where he assisted in computational drug optimization and research for defective Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator

(CFTR) proteins. Alex was invited to the special "Sci-Mix" poster session at the ACS convention in San Diego, California to present this project. Alex then transferred to Vanderbilt to start his junior year. In his free time, Alex is a freelance musician and involved in Vanderbilt Music Outreach on campus. He aspires to one day become a MD/PhD, specializing in cardiology and cardiac drug research.

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Varsha Chigurupati

Summer Undergraduate Student (Nova SEU)


Varsha grew up in Franklin, TN where she attended Fred J. Page High School. She is now attending Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL to pursue a career in medicine. She aspires to become a pediatric surgeon one day. Her interest in diabetes research are rooted by her family members because many are suffering with diabetes. Her targeted work in the lab includes understanding glutamine transport and metabolism in pancreatic islet alpha cells and its role in amino acid induced alpha cell proliferation.

Former Lab Members


Walter Siv, B.A.

Gap Year and Undergraduate Student

Walter received his B.A. in Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University in 2020 where he was a SyBBURE fellow in the Dean Lab. He continued his research in the lab after graduation. Walt's work in the lab is focused on the role of glutamine metabolism in islet cell proliferation and hormone secretion with a focus on the enzyme glutaminase. Currently, Walt is a rising 2nd year medical student at University of Tennessee.


Matthew Shou, B.A.

Gap Year and Undergraduate Student

Matthew received his B.A. in Molecular Biology from Vanderbilt University in 2021 where he received a Commendation for Research in Biological Sciences from the Department of Biological Sciences for his Honors thesis based on his work in the Dean Lab. He elected to continue his research as a gap year student. Matthew's work in the lab is focused on the role of arginine and glutamine metabolism in islet cell proliferation and hormone secretion with a focus on the enzymes arginase and glutaminase. Currently, Matthew is completing his 1st year of medical school at Vanderbilt University.

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Joshua Debo, B.S.


Summer Medical Student (The Ohio State University)

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Omar Amir, B.S.

Summer Medical Student (UT El Paso)


Omar graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a B.S. in Human and Organizational Development (HOD) and Medicine, Health, and Society (MHS) in 2021. As an undergraduate, Omar worked in the lab of Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou on biofilm formation in uropathogenic Escherichia coli. He is currently a student at Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, Texas, pursuing a doctor of medicine degree. He is currently spending the summer in the Dean lab studying amino acid catabolism in pancreatic islets as part of the NIDDK T35 Summer Research Training Program for rising 2nd year medical students. 

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