Karin Haack, Ph.D.

Staff Scientist II | Dr. Shelley Cole's Lab | Population Health, Staff

Research Focus

Dr. Haack trained as a molecular biologist and geneticist and has extensive expertise in large family studies. These studies involve thousands of participants, e.g. the Strong Heart Family Study, a large multi-center study focused on the identification of genetic polymorphisms that may influence the risk for complex cardiovascular and related diseases, like diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

For many years, Dr. Haack has been supervising the successful development of protocols and applications of advanced genetic and genomic technologies for GWAS studies, performed in the Genetics Core Lab at Texas Biomed. Her extensive skill set includes the successfully tracking of large sets of samples, primary data quality control, and large data management. Dr. Haack conducts her studies as part of the research group lead by Dr. Shelley Cole.

Inside the Lab

Early research focused on cancer gene therapy using a suicide system to selectively kill tumor cells modified with the bacterial gene cytosine deaminase (CD) without significant systemic side effects due to treatment. These studies were followed by investigations focused on the antitumoral immunity triggered in vivo by the introduction of this bacterial suicide gene into the tumor cells; we demonstrated that the CD system is suitable for local tumor treatment, with potential for the therapy of metastatic tumors and minimal residual disease.

Later studies developed lentiviral vectors as gene delivery tools. Here we designed a vector that allowed tightly regulated gene expression in the target cells using a tetracycline-inducible system, and we developed a set of vectors suitable for gene transfer both in vitro and in vivo. These vectors allowed the controlled expression of the target gene and demonstrated a significantly reduced basal expression.

Recent studies have been focused on the discovery of the underlying genetic causes of disease. Cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes are of great importance to public health, especially in some underserved minority populations that are at higher disease risk than the average population, such as American Indians and Mexican Americans. These common, complex diseases are determined by both genetic and environmental factors, and we are trying to understand the genetic variation as it relates to the disease risk. To increase the power to identify underlying polymorphisms, we study large multi-generational families (several hundred to several thousand participants). Family studies are especially powerful in detecting novel or population-specific genetic variants, including rare variants, which may have a large effect on disease risk. Our previous genome-wide linkage analyses already identified chromosomal loci that may affect variation in disease risk. Currently, we are conducting genome-wide and targeted association studies to narrow down polymorphisms and consequently genes that influence selected traits and associated disease risk. We use SNP genotyping and DNA sequencing to identify novel or population-specific genetic variation in our study-populations, which are not well represented in public databases. As co-investigator in these studies, my responsibilities include the oversight of sample inventory, sample shipments, tracking of samples, aliquots, and assays performed, as well as data management, transfer and analysis.

Main Technologies and Methods Used

  • Next generation sequencing
  • DNA sequencing
  • Whole-genome expression assays
  • SNP genotyping
  • GWAS analysis