Dr Kate Lee

BSc Hons (University of Wales, Bangor, UK), PhD (Bart's and the London Queen Mary University of London, UK)

Research | Current

I am a molecular biologist with research experience spanning genetics, proteomics, mass spec, gene expression, peptide hormones, pancreatic islet isolation and functional analysis, in vivo models of metabolic disease. 

My interest lies in diabetes and particularly in insulin-family hormones and genetic variants driving metabolic disease in Māori and Pacific people and more generally islet function in health and disease. 

IGF-II related islet derived hormones. Beta cells in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas secrete not only insulin but also other peptide hormones that act synergistically to control blood glucose.  These hormones include vesiculin and preptin, which were discovered by New Zealand researchers here at the University of Auckland.  We are studying the function of these hormones both in their natural role as well as therapeutically.  My interests extend to IGF-II biology in general which has received little attention so far in terms of its role in metabolic regulation.  IGF-II is a very interesting peptide hormone that is highly related to insulin.  Although primarily recognised as a foetal growth factor, IGF-II is also metabolically active and adult humans have high circulating levels of this hormone, although it is bound to other proteins in the blood preventing non-specific activity.  Amazingly we really don’t understand what role it plays in adult physiology.  Our data has shown that mature/classic IGF-II as well as pro-IGF-II peptides preptin and vesiculin are all produced by islet beta cells.

Functional study of metabolic disease associated gene variants.  Tiny genetic differences between populations and indeed individuals are key drivers of disease.  Complex diseases such as diabetes, obesity and CVD are essentially the product of environmental interactions with an individual's unique suite of genes.  These diseases therefore have slightly different causes in different people although all resulting in the same pathology (high blood sugar or weight gain).  This may be a slight variation in how well an individual produces important metabolic hormones in response to the right stimuli or how well their body responds to these hormones, for example.  Hormones control how an individual stores or uses the energy they consume, how much they absorb into the body and even how much food they eat and how often.  With Professor Peter Shepherd and a large collaborative team of researchers in New Zealand, our research aims to investigate the effect of these tiny genetic variations found specifically in Māori and Pacific populations on the elements described above and my own focus is on islet function and the function of Islet derived hormones with the aim of improving health inequalities in New Zealand.

Islet function.  Islet cells and the hormones they secrete are crucial for maintenance of blood glucose and metabolic balance of the whole body.  They act locally and distally and also synergistically with hormones secreted from the brain, gut and fat tissue to balance energy homeostasis through control of energy/nutrient consumption and storage as well as appetite and nutrient absorption.  Along with a poor diet, derangement of these systems leads to obesity, diabetes and cancer.  The mechanisms surrounding how insulin secretory granules are stored, trafficked to the membrane and released from the cells are not well understood.  Elucidating these mechanisms is crucial as we can then understand how genetic variation in these systems leads to disease and ultimately how best to target therapeutics.

Postgraduate supervision

PhD - Sanaz Vakili

PhD - Shalinda Fernando

MSc - Thai Nguyen (completed)

MSc - Angeline Jade Garcia (completed)

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Current chair of the Maurice Wilkins Centre Early Career Committee

Current secretary for the New Zealand Society for Endocrinology

Past chair of the School of Biological Sciences Postdoctoral Society and the FMHS Post Doc Society.

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Dissanayake, W. C., Sorrenson, B., Lee, K. L., Barre, S., & Shepherd, P. R. (2020). α-catenin isoforms are regulated by glucose and involved in regulating insulin secretion in rat clonal β-cell models. The Biochemical journal, 477 (4), 763-772. 10.1042/bcj20190832
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Waruni Dissanayake
  • Buchanan, C. M., Lee, K. L., & Shepherd, P. R. (2019). For Better or Worse: The Potential for Dose Limiting the On-Target Toxicity of PI 3-Kinase Inhibitors. Biomolecules, 9 (9).10.3390/biom9090402
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Christina Buchanan, Peter Shepherd
  • Lee, K. L., Aitken, J. F., Hsu, H.-L., Williams, G. M., Brimble, M. A., & Cooper, G. J. S. (2019). Glucoregulatory activity of vesiculin in insulin sensitive and resistant mice. Peptides, 116, 1-7. 10.1016/j.peptides.2019.04.011
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Jackie Aitken, Geoffrey Williams, Garth Cooper, Margaret Brimble
  • Sorrenson, B., Cognard, E., Lee, K. L., Dissanayake, W. C., Fu, Y., Han, W., ... Shepherd, P. R. (2016). A critical role for β-catenin in modulating levels of insulin secretion from β-cells by regulating actin cytoskeleton and insulin vesicle localization. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 291 (50), 25888-25900. 10.1074/jbc.M116.758516
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Peter Shepherd, Waruni Dissanayake
  • Williams, G. M., Lee, K., Li, X., Cooper, G. J., & Brimble, M. A. (2015). Replacement of the CysA7-CysB7 disulfide bond with a 1,2,3-triazole linker causes unfolding in insulin glargine. Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 13, 4059-4063. 10.1039/c5ob00160a
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Garth Cooper, Margaret Brimble, Geoffrey Williams
  • Lee, K. L., Middleditch, M. J., Williams, G. M., Brimble, M. A., & Cooper, G. J. (2015). Using mass spectrometry to detect, differentiate, and semiquantitate closely related peptide hormones in complex milieu: Measurement of IGF-II and vesiculin. Endocrinology, 156 (3), 1194-1199. 10.1210/en.2014-1593
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Garth Cooper, Martin Middleditch, Margaret Brimble, Geoffrey Williams
  • Williams, G. M., Cooper, G. J. S., Lee, K., Whiting, L., & Brimble, M. A. (2013). Synthesis of the IGF-II-like hormone vesiculin using regioselective formation of disulfide bonds. Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry, 11 (19), 3145-3150. 10.1039/C3OB40322J
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Geoffrey Williams, Garth Cooper, Margaret Brimble
  • Lovell, M. J., Yasin, M., Lee, K. L., Cheung, K. K., Shintani, Y., Collino, M., ... Kapoor, A. (2010). Bone marrow mononuclear cells reduce myocardial reperfusion injury by activating the PI3K/Akt survival pathway. Atherosclerosis, 213 (1), 67-76. 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2010.07.045
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/9826


Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 504 - Bldg 504
Level 2, Room 207
New Zealand

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