Dr. Jean Schaffer comes to Joslin after 24 years on the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, where she was the inaugural holder of the Virginia Minnich Distinguished Professorship in Medicine and Director of the NIH-funded Diabetes Research Center.

Dr. Schaffer’s research focuses on metabolic regulation and complications of diabetes. Her work has elucidated the ways in which high levels of sugars and fats in the bloodstream damage tissues of many organs, and her laboratory has developed models for study of the connections between diabetes and heart disease. She has used bold strategies and innovative approaches to discover links between metabolic regulation and regions of “junk” DNA, which does not encode proteins. These studies have the potential to provide new approaches to prevent diabetes and novel strategies for improving the health of persons affected by the disease.

Dr. Schaffer’s work has been recognized with prestigious awards including the American Heart Association’s Louis N. Katz Basic Science Research Prize, the Heinrich Wieland Prize, the Harold Rifkin Award and most recently the Avanti Award in Lipids. She was elected as a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the American Association of Physicians and as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Schaffer earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and her medical degrees from the Harvard/MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program. She completed clinical training at Brigham and Women’s and Beth Israel Hospitals and her post-doctoral training at the Whitehead Institute at MIT.

The Schaffer lab uses genetic, biochemical, cell biological, and physiological approaches to study mechanisms through which metabolic stress leads to cell dysfunction and cell death. A major area of focus is the lipotoxicity that results from high circulating free fatty acids and triglycerides, metabolic abnormalities that are common in type 2 diabetes and that contribute to cardiac and hepatic complications. We have developed mouse models of diabetic cardiomyopathy, characterized alterations in cellular lipid metabolism using sensitive mass spectrometry based approaches, and carried out genetic screens to delineate the molecular underpinnings of the response to lipotoxic stress. Currently, the lab is studying non-canonical functions of small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), regulated RNA degradation, and translational regulation in response to metabolic stress. Other areas of interest are post-lysosomal cholesterol trafficking networks and disruption of these pathway in inherited disorders of cholesterol metabolism.

Harvard College, Cambridge, MA
Medical school
Harvard Medical School (Health Sciences & Technology Program), Boston, MA
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

American Heart Association’s Louis N. Katz Basic Science Research Prize

Heinrich Wieland Prize

Harold Rifkin Award

Avanti Award in Lipids from The American Society of Biological Chemists (ASBC)

Contact Information

jean.schaffer [at] joslin.harvard.edu