Department of Cancer Biology

Cynthia M. Smas, D.Sc.

cs Cynthia Smas, D.Sc.
Associate Professor of Cancer Biology 


The Smas laboratory has a long-standing interest in understanding metabolism at the physiological and molecular level, with a focus on studies of fat metabolism. Obesity is an expanding health problem in the United States and carries high socio-economic costs.  White adipose tissue (WAT) functions both as the key organ to store and release triglyceride energy in response to nutritional and hormonal signals and also as an important endocrine organ. Obesity is a co-morbidity of numerous other life-threatening diseases, for example diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. These have been attributable to lipid overflow and subsequent ectopic lipid uptake into non-adipose organism, resulting in lipotoxic response that can include apoptosis, ER stress, fibrosis and cellular and system inflammation. The control of adipose mass and the function of the adipocyte and non-adipocyte components of adipose tissue are therefore key to metabolic health.

A main direction of study in the lab are investigations on the formation and function of fat cells (adipocytes) and adipose tissue. One goal in this regard is the identification and functional characterization of new genes that play important roles in adipocytes. Over the past decade or so, the laboratory has identified numerous novel adipose-enriched genes and delved into their respective functions. These include Fstl1, Sic37A2, AdhFe1, Dies1, Adig, Cidec, ATGL, and Tmem182. Currently the lab is further defining the role of several new adipocyte-enriched genes using studies in cultured cells and in animal models.

Another major avenue of study in the laboratory is understanding the impact of dysregulated lipid metabolism in the liver and the mechanisms relating hepatic steatosis to liver cancer. Hepatic steatosis occurs in the majority of obese individuals and is a major risk factor for development of liver cancer. A central focus on this research avenue is RIFL/Angptl8, a critical new endocrine regulator of serum triglyceride levels that the Smas laboratory was first to identify several years ago. We believe that RIFL/Angptl8, which is produced exclusively by adipocytes and hepatocytes, is a key factor that regulates the storage of fat in the liver. We are pursuing studies to investigate whether ablation of RIFL/Angptl8 in cells and in animal models will protect from fatty liver disease and also from development and/or severity of liver cancer.


1980 B.A. Biology, Boston University, Boston, MA
1985 M.S. Biological Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA
1994 D.Sc. Nutritional Biochemistry, Harvard University, School of Public Health, Div. of Biological Sciences, Boston, MA



Chapters in books

Smas, C.M. and Sul, H. S. Control of Adipocyte Differentiation. Book chapter in: Biochemical Journal Reviews, Portland Press Ltd London, 1995, pages: 113-126.

Sul, H.S., Smas, C.M., Chen, L., Mei, B., and Zhao, L.  Pref-1, an Inhibitor of Adipogenesis.  Book chapter in: 27th Steenbock Symposium: Adipocyte Biology and Hormone Signaling, University of Wisconsin Press, WI, 2000, pages 185-199.

Sul, H.S., Moustaid, N., Sakamoto, K., Smas, C.M., Gekakis, N., and Jerkins, A. Nutritional and Hormonal Regulation of Genes Encoding Enzymes Involved in Fat Synthesis.  Book chapter in:  Nutrition and Gene Expression,.  Berdanier, J.L. and Hargrove, C.D. (eds.).  CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, FL, 1993, pages 207-226.

Last Updated: 2/12/20