Priyathama Vellanki, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine

Department of Medicine


Dr. Vellanki is a clinically trained endocrinologist whose long-term career goal is to become an independent clinical investigator in the area of genotype-phenotype correlations and assessment of sex differences in insulin sensitivity and secretion.  Dr. Guillermo Umpierrez serves as her mentor.   The objective of her BIRCWH award is to evaluate the underlying sex-specific and non sex-specific epigenetic markers associated with changes in insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion in the field of ketosis-prone diabetes (KPDM).  KPDM is a unique subtype of diabetes where patients present with diabetic ketoacidosis resulting from acute loss of pancreatic beta cell function and severe insulin resistance. This phenotype is prevalent in African Americans and has a 2-3:1 male to female predominance. With intensive insulin treatment, many patients recover their beta cell function and have improvements in insulin resistance to allow for discontinuation of insulin or remission. Therefore, patients with KPDM represent a unique model to assess sex differences in the underlying changes leading to improvements in insulin sensitivity and secretion.

Priya has a strong background in clinical research with a focus on women’s health. During her fellowship, under the mentorship of Dr. Andrea Dunaif, she received a T-32 grant to study the correlation between sex-specific DNA variants and dysglycemia in a common reproductive disorder in women, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In order to consolidate her skills in clinical research, she completed a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) during which she acquired skills in biostatistics, epidemiology and research methods. This work resulted in several abstracts and three publications.

Since becoming an Assistant Professor at Emory University in 2014, Dr. Vellanki has maintained an interest in understanding genotype-phenotype correlations in insulin sensitivity and secretion. In her clinical practice, many patients who present with diabetic ketoacidosis have KPDM. Therefore, she feels strongly that elucidating the underlying mechanisms in KPDM will have relevant implications for the majority of patients in her clinical practice. As a result, she has extended her study of genotype-phenotype correlations from common DNA variants to epigenetic markers of insulin sensitivity and secretion. Further, despite the high male prevalence, few studies have examined sex differences in the underlying mechanisms leading to changes in insulin sensitivity and secretion.

Priya's BIRCWH proposal is an ideal extension of her previous work in PCOS. She plans to expand to the study of sex differences as relating to changes in insulin sensitivity and secretion. During her first year as a faculty member, she has shown independence and initiative in research. She successfully applied for a competitive university based pilot grant, the Emory Medical Care Foundation grant (EMCF), which allowed her to generate preliminary data for her current BIRCWH application. Analysis of the preliminary data showed that gene expression and methylation changes in IGFBP2 associate with discontinuation of insulin; supporting that epigenetic changes in skeletal muscle play a role in KPDM. This work resulted in 2 abstract submissions, which were presented as an oral presentation at the 2016 Annual Endocrine Society and a poster presentation at the 2016 Annual American Diabetes Association Meeting. The epiegentic markers, specifically, the blood-based biomarkers will be used to predict sustained near-normoglycemia remission along with insulin sensitivity and secretion (K23 proposal). Further, if there are sex differences in gene expression and DNA methylation, the K23 proposal will examine the role of sex hormones in gene expression and methylation changes leading to improved insulin sensitivity and secretion. Elucidating the role of sex hormones in improvements of insulin sensitivity and secretion could lead to novel treatment regimens where addition of estrogens may prolong the period of remission from insulin.