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Faculty Profile: Clara Peek, PhD, GME ’15, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology

Sadiya Khan

Clara Peek, PhD, '15 GME, is an assistant professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology. Her lab aims to uncover the physiological impact of the circadian clock on nutrient-responsive regulatory pathways and use these findings to understand the role of circadian clocks in metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer. She is a member of the Center for Diabetes and Metabolism, the Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Center of Northwestern University.

What are your research interests? 

Our laboratory is working to understand the interplay between metabolic and circadian transcriptional pathways, both at the genomic and nutrient-signaling levels, and applying these findings to understand the role of circadian clocks in pathologies such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

The overarching goal of our research team is to broaden our understanding of circadian metabolism and pinpoint the impact of misaligned circadian timing in human disease.

How did you become interested in this area of research?

I have always had an interest in metabolism. As a graduate student, I studied the molecular mechanisms by which yeast cells sense nutrients in their environment to respond to different types of stress. Late in my graduate studies, I became aware of emerging evidence for a striking connection between circadian disruption such as jetlag and shift work and the prevalence of metabolic diseases and cancer. I was fascinated with the concept of a cellular mechanism to align internal processes in anticipation of the changing demands across the 24-hour day. It was around that time that the existence of autonomous “peripheral” clocks in metabolic tissues was discovered, yet circadian timing was (and still is) rarely considered in biomedical research. Therefore, I decided I wanted to join the group of scientists tackling this fundamental process in hopes of understanding more about human metabolism and disease.

How is your research funded?

We have been fortunate to receive multiple grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, as well as funding from the Lurie Cancer Center.

Where has your work been published?

Over the past three years, I have published in Cell Metabolism and contributed to five other papers stemming from a number of exciting collaborations both inside and outside of Northwestern. In addition, I have recently published a review article on circadian clocks and oxygen-sensing in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Who inspires you? Who are your mentors?

I feel lucky to have had many exceptional teachers, collaborators and mentors over the course of my career who believed in me, pushed me and were always available to offer support. In particular, my graduate advisor, Dr. Peter Espenshade, and postdoctoral advisor, Dr. Joseph Bass, have played important roles in my career. They taught me many invaluable skills and provide the foundation for how I wish to grow and develop my own research program. I hope that I can provide the same quality mentorship to my trainees and team as I have received.