Alka Kanaya, MD

Photograph of Alka Kanaya

Professor in Residence 
UCSF School of Medicine 

Dr. Kanaya has focused her clinical research in the field of type 2 diabetes and obesity and has developed a three-pronged research program that is unified under this theme. The first arm consists of using existing cohort studies to test novel biomarkers that predict diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The second arm is to create a South Asian cohort to study these risk factors in a very high risk group. The final arm is to test behavioral interventions to prevent the onset of diabetes.

The first arm of her research program focuses on understanding novel biomarkers secreted from adipose tissue that may be responsible for the metabolic sequelae associated with obesity. She assayed adiponectin from over 3,000 frozen serum specimens from a longitudinal cohort and have performed a series of analyses finding that abdominal visceral adiposity when directly measured by CT scan is significantly associated with type 2 diabetes and adipocytokines, proteins produced by adipose tissue, explain this association. She and her collaborators have found strong links between visceral adiposity and adipocytokines predicting risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality.

The second arm of her research program has been to establish a population-based cohort of South Asian adults. South Asians have very high prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and have been poorly studied. With a K23 grant from the NHLBI, she recruited 150 South Asians in a pilot cohort study which was modeled on the existing Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). In this project, called the Metabolic Syndrome and Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America (MASALA study), her team examined the relationship between metabolic factors and atherosclerosis measured by carotid ultrasound and coronary artery calcium. They found that compared to the four ethnic groups in MESA (Whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Chinese Americans), South Asians had higher diabetes prevalence[58] despite having favorable lifestyle risk factors. She received additional funding to study endothelial function in this cohort through the American Heart Association and we finished our second clinical examination visits in January 2010. She was awarded a new R01 grant to expand and prospectively follow this South Asian cohort at two clinical sites to chart the natural history of diabetes and atherosclerosis and test novel risk factors. She submitted another R01 grant to create a new multi-dimensional tool to measure cultural beliefs and adaptations among South Asian Americans. This project will involve both qualitative and quantitative methods and will help us understand cultural risk factors for cardiovascular disease in this high risk ethnic group.

The third arm includes testing behavioral interventions to prevent diabetes in high risk individuals. Dr. Kanaya and her collaborators conducted a translational randomized controlled trial testing the effectiveness of a lifestyle intervention provided by the Berkeley Public Health Department to decrease diabetes risk factors in low-income ethnic minority groups. She has also completed a pilot randomized controlled trial to test the feasibility of Restorative yoga in overweight adults with the metabolic syndrome. They found that Restorative yoga was feasible with trends toward improvements in waist circumference and blood pressure in the yoga group compared to the control group. She has been awarded an R01 grant to test this intervention vs. a stretching control group in a multicenter randomized controlled trial called PRYSMS which is currently underway.

The three arms of her research agenda complement each other and provide fertile ground to develop and test new hypotheses with the ultimate goal of better caring for patients at high risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Contact Information

University of California, San Francisco
Campus Box 0320
1545 Divisadero Street, Room 311
San Francisco, CA 94143

Phone: 415-353-7919

Publications on PubMed

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