Richard M. Watanabe


Associate Professor

Preventive Medicine (Division of Biostatistics) and Physiology & Biophysics
Keck School of Medicine

Research Topics

  • Diabetes/Metabolic Diseases
  • Obesity
  • Biostatistics
  • Statistical Genetics
  • Genetic Epidemiology (Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Obesity)
  • Epidemiology (Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Obesity)
  • Genetics, Endocrinology/Metabolism
  • Physiology
  • Human/Mammalian Genetics
  • Complex Disease Genetics

Research Overview

I have a primary interest in the pathophysiology and genetics of type 2 diabetes mellitus. My research program focuses on genetics, pathophysiology (and the correlation with genetics), and mathematical modeling of physiologic systems.

In the area of complex disease genetics, I am focusing on both positional cloning of susceptibility genes for type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related traits and understanding the gene-phenotype relationships and how they are impacted by environmental exposures. Current genetics projects include:

- The Finland-United States Investigation of Non-insulin-dependent Diabetes Mellitus (FUSION) Study. This is an international multi-center study to positionally clone genes for type 2 diabetes in the Finnish population. Associated with the FUSION study is our involvement in a variety of consortia that are collaborating on efforts to identify genes underlying type 2 diabetes and related traits. An example is MAGIC (Meta-Analysis of Glucose and Insulin-related traits Consortium), that is attempting to identify genes underlying variation in fasting glucose, insulin, and related traits.

- The BetaGene Study in which we are attempting to identify genes predisposing for insulin resistance, insulin secretion, and beta-cell function in Mexican-American families of a woman with or without a previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes. The BetaGene sample is unique in that it is the largest sample of Mexican Americans assessed using detailed phenotyping, like direct measures of insulin resistance and secretion. We mainly focused on examining gene-gene and gene-environment interactions, but are also interested in whether gene variants may also be associated with longitudinal changes in phenotypes.

- The BetaGene-EFT Study, which is specifically examining whether genetic variation in transcription factor 7-like 2 (TCF7L2) is associated with longitudinal change in diabetes-related traits in participants of the BetaGene study. This sub-study is funded by Merck & Co.

- The ReACT Study, which is an open-label clinical trial designed to identify responders and non-responders to Pioglitazone, a thiazolidinedione used to treat type 2 diabetes and recently shown to have great potential to reduce risk for, or even prevent, type 2 diabetes. We are attempting to identify genetic variants that may underlie the response mechanism.

- In the area of mathematical modeling, we are developing a model to understand how gene variants may interplay to alter diabetes-related phenotypes. The goal of the this model is to better understand gene-gene interactions.