Inflammation and Lipoprotein Metabolism Research Group

Inflammation and Lipoprotein Metabolism Research Group:  Marcielle de Beer, Ailing Ji, Vicky Noffsinger, Preetha Shridas, Joe Layne, Nancy Webb, Xuebing Wang, Joanne Wroblewski

Our group investigates the impact of inflammation and insulin resistance on lipoprotein and cellular metabolism.  In one project, we are investigating how inflammation and insulin resistance alters the metabolism and function of high-density lipoprotein (HDL).  For decades, HDL has been considered to be the “good cholesterol” because individuals with high levels of HDL in their blood are at lower risk for cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) compared to individuals with low HDL. HDL is thought to protect against cardiovascular disease through its ability to transport “bad” cholesterol that has accumulated in blood vessels back to the liver, where it can be removed from the body.  Our group investigates the hypothesis that inflammation and insulin resistance interferes with HDL’s ability to carry out this protective function. Many of our studies focus on serum amyloid A (SAA).  SAA is an acute phase reactant whose secretion by the liver can increase up to 1000-fold during severe inflammation, such as sepsis. Virtually all of the SAA in the blood is associated with HDL. We are investigating whether persistent elevations of SAA in individuals with chronic inflammation or insulin resistance leads to detrimental effects in blood vessels and other tissues.  We also study secretory phospholipase A2 (sPLA2’s), a class of secreted enzymes that can hydrolyze phospholipids on cell membranes and lipoprotein particles.  We have determined that their activity is increased during inflammation and are currently  studying how these enzymes impact cell metabolism. Click here for more pictures of us!


Lab Members


Frederick C de Beer, MD, Dean/Vice President Clinical Academic Affairs
Frederick de Beer received his medical degree from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He completed his postgraduate education at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, London, England.  Prior to coming to the United States in 1989, he served as Professor of Medicine at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.  At the University of Kentucky, he served as Vice Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, Director of the UK Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences, and Chief of Medicine at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington.  In 2003, he was appointed the Jack M. Gill Professor and Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine.  In 2011, he was named Dean of UK College of Medicine. Dr de Beer has authored or co-authored 135 peer-reviewed publications as well as a number of book chapters and editorials.  He maintains an active research laboratory and has been continually funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 20 years.  His main research focus is the dramatic change in proteins that occurs during inflammation.  Initially he studied a family of proteins called pentraxins, involved in clearance of genetic material during cell death and amyloidosis.  Over the last decades his interest has shifted to Serum Amyloid A protein (SAA), an apolipoprotein of HDL.  His major focus is on how SAA contributes to accelerated atherosclerosis associated with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.  Lately the role of SAA in abdominal aortic aneurysm formation is being explored. 


Maria C de Beer, PhD, Associate Professor
Maria (known as “Marcielle” by her friends) received her initial training as a dietitian with a BSc Hon (Dietetics) from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. After taking time to raise her children she returned to bioscience and obtained a PhD in medical biochemistry from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. The family came to the United States in 1989 and settled in Lexington and the University of Kentucky. Marcielle has a longstanding interest in acute phase proteins, particularly serum amyloid A (SAA), which is an apoprotein of HDL. She has been involved in studies investigating the role of SAA in HDL metabolism, cardiovascular disease, and more recently, the potential role of SAA in tissue remodeling. For Marcielle the ultimate vacation is being on safari where she can enjoy nature-- and here she is climbing some of the highest sand dunes at Sossusvlei in Namibia. Other passions include cooking, reading, gardening, and traveling with her grandchildren.




Ailing Ji, PhD, Senior Research Associate

Ailing received a MS in Cell Biology from Beijing Normal University, China in 1990 and a PhD in human biology from Philipps-University Marburg, Germany in 2005. She joined the Cardiovascular Research Center at University of Kentucky in 2005 as a Postdoctoral Scholar. In 2010, she became a Research Associate Senior in the Webb, van der Westhuyzen, de Beer group. Her research focuses on the impact of inflammation on HDL and cellular lipid metabolism and cardiovascular diseases. She likes traveling. She has been to Salzburg, Austria, where she enjoyed the famous music festival.


Victoria Noffsinger, BS, Scientist II
Vicky is a Kentucky native and graduated with her BS in Biology (Molecular Option) from Murray State University.  She worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Experimental Hematology as POE Intern (Professional Oncology Education).   Being inspired by their mission she stayed on to work at St. Jude for 5 more years in Molecular Pharmacology and later the Biochemistry department.  Feeling the pull of her “… Old Kentucky Home” she returned to KY and obtained employment at UK with the de Beer, Webb, van der Westhuyzen group.  In her spare time you will find her nose in a good book.  However in the lab you will find her analyzing and isolating lipoproteins.





Preetha Shridas, PhD, Assistant Professor
Preetha earned her PhD in Biochemistry from Bharathiar University, India, after which she obtained a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India. She joined the University of Kentucky as a Research Associate in the Department of Biochemistry in 2001 and later joined the lab of Dr. Nancy Webb in September 2005. Her broad area of research includes obesity and type 2 diabetes. Current research is focused on the investigation of the pathophysiological role of secretory phospholipase A2s. She is from Kerala in the southern part of India and her interests include Indian music and cooking.




Nancy Webb, PhD, Professor
Nancy earned a BA in Biology from the University of Virginia in 1981, and a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Kentucky in 1999. She joined the Department of Internal Medicine faculty at the University of Kentucky in 1999. In February 2014, Nancy transferred to the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, where she was appointed Director of the Nutritional Sciences Division.  She is actively engaged in the American Heart Association research program, serving as chair of the Great Rivers Affiliate Research Committee and member of the Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology Leadership Committee. Whenever possible, Nancy escapes with her family to Upstate New York, where she enjoys hiking and skiing in the Adirondack Mountains.



Joanne M. Wroblewski, PhD, Scientist III
Joanne was born and raised in Buffalo, New York.  She earned a BA in Biology in 1976 and a PhD in Pathology (Immunobiology) in 1991 from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo.  After a post-doc in San Francisco at UCSF studying hematolymphoid malignancies, she came to Lexington and the University of Kentucky where she has studied lung cancer, including working on a clinical trial for a dendritic cell vaccine, and the role of serum amyloid A in cardiovascular diseases. Joanne is an avid tennis player, enjoys cross-country skiing and biking, and dotes on her (and all other) cats.


[Back to Top]


[Back to Top]