Richa Saxena

Richa Saxena, PhD

Richa Saxena studies the genetics of circadian rhythms/sleep disorders and their association with common disease like type 2 diabetes. The lab also investigates the genetics of preeclampsia, and its role in predicting the risk of future cardiovascular disease.


Assistant Professor of Anaesthesia, Harvard Medical School
Assistant in Genetics, Dept of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine
Member, Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital
Affiliate, Program in Medical and Population Genetics, Broad Institute

Research Areas

Circadian/sleep genetics and association with common disease
Genetics of Preeclampsia
Malignant Hyperthermia gene discovery

Description of Research

We study the genetics of circadian rhythms, which regulate diverse physiological processes including the sleep-wake cycle, feeding behavior, hormone secretion, drug metabolism and glucose homeostasis. The lab integrates genome-wide human genetic approaches with focused mechanistic investigation to understand how genetic variation in circadian clock genes impacts normal human physiology, disease pathophysiology and response to therapy.  We led genome-wide association studies of type 2 diabetes and related traits that identified over 20 risk loci for type 2 diabetes and 18 loci for glycemic traits including the circadian genes melatonin receptor (MTNR1B) and cryptochrome 2 (CRY2). Interestingly, epidemiologic and laboratory studies have demonstrated that inadequate sleep duration, sleep disorders and circadian mis-alignment such as shift work consistently increase risk of type 2 diabetes, but molecular links between these systems in humans are poorly understood. In collaboration with researchers at the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the lab is exploring genetic and mechanistic links between sleep/circadian dysfunction and type 2 diabetes pathogenesis.

The other main focus of the lab is gene discovery in preeclampsia, a common disorder in pregnant women that strongly predicts risk of future cardiovascular disease. We investigate the maternal and fetal genetic components of disease and are engaged in identification of a) common variants through participation in international consortia, b) rare variants by sequencing of extreme and familial samples and c) genetic interaction between the maternal and fetal genomes.

In addition we have several rare disease genetics collaborations including large-scale sequencing in malignant hyperthermia.

Grant Funding

NIH/NIDDK, Claflin Distinguished Scholar Award, William Randolph Hearst Fund
Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology


Selected publications:

1. Saxena R*, Elbers CC*,  et al. Large-scale gene-centric meta-analysis across 39 studies identifies type 2 diabetes loci. Am J Hum Genet 2012; 90(3):410-425.

2. Dupuis J*, Langenberg C*, Prokopenko I*, Saxena R*, Soranzo N* et al.  New genetic loci implicated in fasting glucose homeostasis and their impact on type 2 diabetes risk. Nat Genet 2010;42:105-16.

3. Prokopenko I*, Langenberg C*, Florez JC*, Saxena R*, Soranzo N* et al.  Variants in the melatonin receptor 1B gene (MTNR1B) influence fasting glucose levels.  Nat Genet 2009;41:77-81.

4. Zeggini E*, Scott LJ*, Saxena R*, Voight B* for the Diabetes Genetics Replication and Meta-analysis (DIAGRAM) Consortium. Meta-analysis of genome-wide association data and large-scale replication identifies several additional susceptibility loci for type 2 diabetes. Nat Genet 2008;40:638-45.

5. The Diabetes Genetics Initiative of Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Lund University and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Saxena R et al. Genome-wide association analysis identifies loci for type 2 diabetes and triglyceride levels. Science 2007;316:1331-1336.*RS led writing, study design & phenotype groups.

*Equal contribution


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