David C. Whitcomb, MD, PhD Professor, Chief, Medicine (GI)
research group is organized to determine the mechanisms of complex disorders including acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. The program has evolved over the past decade as new opportunities to gain insight into basic mechanisms became available. Dr. Whitcomb has been funded to study complex neurohormonal feedback mechanisms controlling pancreatic function (especially mechanisms of pancreatic polypeptide and peptide YY), the genomic changes in alcoholic pancreatitis and the genetics of hereditary pancreatitis. This work led to the discovery of the gene responsible for hereditary pancreatitis, genes that have profound impact on the susceptibility to pancreatic diseases or modify severity. A gene for pancreatic cancer has also been mapped.
Dr. Whitcomb co-founded and directed the Center for Genomic Sciences, which formed the foundation for the current Genomic and Proteomic Core Laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh. This facility makes cutting-edge genetic and genomic technologies available to all laboratories and investigators. Dr. Whitcomb also co-founded the Midwest Multicenter Study Group, which was recently renamed the North American Pancreatic Study Group, an organization of academic medical centers dedicated to do multi-center studies. These resources allow Dr. Whitcomb's group to begin translational research studies which include collections of hundreds of highly phenotyped patients from multiple sites and to perform high-throughput genetic testing as part of a complex genetic disorder program looking at gene-environment and gene-gene interactions.
Dr. Whitcomb's laboratory is also working on developing a comprehensive risk model for pancreatic cancer and new methods for early detection of pancreatic cancer. He has also developing a new approach to complex traits called the system-based cases series method. This should allow for rapid discovery of the mechanisms causing unusual and rare disorders, anticipation of a spectrum of complications in more common disorders, and the stratification of individuals in a population for cancer risk reduction interventions and appropriate screening programs.