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Leah Catherine Solberg Woods, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Molecular Medicine and Department of Physiology and Pharmacology
Wake Forest School of Medicine



Center Affiliations       




Center for Precision Medicine
Center on Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism
Center for Cardiovascular Sciences

1 Medical Center Drive
Winston Salem, NC  27157


Education and Training

BA, Psychology (1995)
PhD, Neuroscience (2002)

Postdoc, Genetics (2002-2004)
Postdoc, Genetics (2004-2007), Human and Molecular Genetics Center,

Central College, Pella, IA
Northwestern University, Chicago, IL
Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, UK
Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI

Prior Positions

Assistant Professor, Medical College of Wisconsin, Human and Molecular Genetics Center and Department of Pediatrics, Milwaukee, WI (2007-2013)
Associate Professor, Medical College of Wisconsin, Professor, Human and Molecular Genetics Center and Department of Pediatrics, Milwaukee, WI (2013-2016)

Research Focus

Genetic of diabetes and obesity using rodent models
Genetics of mental health
QTL mapping
Outbred rodents

My laboratory is interested in identifying genes involved in traits associated with type 2 diabetes (T2D) and obesity using rat models. T2D is a growing health problem, with 347 million people affected worldwide.  It is a complex disorder affected by multiple environmental and genetic components. My laboratory uses a genetic rat model, outbred heterogeneous stock (HS) rats, to identify relatively small chromosomal regions that play a role in diabetes-related phenotypes.  HS rats are outbred from eight inbred rat strains such that the chromosomal make-up of the progeny is a mosaic of the founding inbred strains.  This enables the mapping of chromosomal loci to only 2-4 Megabases, significantly decreasing the number of possible candidate genes within each region. 

We have used HS rats to identify a region on rat chromosome 1 that plays a role in glucose and insulin levels.  Using expression and sequence data we have identified Tpcn2 as the likely causal gene within this region and shown that Tpcn2 likely plays a role in regulating insulin levels in humans.  We are currently using HS rats to identify additional loci that play a role in metabolic phenotypes across the entire rat genome, coupled with RNAseq studies in liver and adipose tissue to further help us identify genes and networks that play a role in diabetes and obesity traits.  This work has allowed us to identify relatively small genomic regions for body weight and visceral adiposity and we have identified the likely causal genes and even variants that underlie these loci. Once genes are identified, we will test these genes in human cohorts and use rat models to understand the mechanism of disease. 

 Our laboratory has also started studies to look at the interplay between obesity and mental health, and to assess the role of diet on both metabolic and mental health.  Finally, we have formed several collaborations with other investigators to use HS rats to study other complex traits including kidney disease and behavior.

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