Joe Varghese

Professor and Head,

Department of Biochemistry,

Christian Medical College,

Bagayam, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India – 632002

Phone: +91-416-2284267 (office), +91-416-2284458 (lab)



Degree                               Period                  Institution                                            University


The broad area of my research is in the field of iron metabolism. Iron is a transition metal that plays a critical role in a variety of physiological processes, such as growth and proliferation, oxygen transport, enzyme activity etc. Our understanding of the regulation of systemic and cellular iron homeostasis has increased exponentially over the past couple of decades. At the same time, it is also being recognized that dysregulation of iron homeostasis is involved in the pathogenesis of several diseases as well. In my research, I am currently focused on studying the role of iron in the pathogenesis of diabetes mellitus and chronic non-healing ulcers.

Iron and diabetes mellitus

A mild-to-moderate increase in body iron stores is known to be associated with diabetes mellitus. A few studies have suggested that an increase in beta-cell iron levels may adversely affect its function and potentially increase the risk of beta cell failure. However, very little is known about the underlying mechanisms involved. Planned and on-going work in the lab is aimed at studying this at the molecular and functional level.

Using animal models of dietary and genetic iron overload, we are investigating the effect of iron on beta cells isolated from the pancreas and cultured ex vivo. In our studies involving humans, the effects of oral iron supplementation on insulin secretion kinetics and glucose tolerance is being evaluated. These studies will shed light on the effect of iron on beta-cell function. Overall, we hope to understand whether increased body iron is a risk factor for diabetes mellitus, especially in those who are genetically pre-disposed to it.

Role of iron in wound healing

There is an urgent need to develop new and effective therapeutic strategies to promote wound healing in patients with chronic non-healing ulcers. Iron is essential for normal wound healing. However, iron tends to accumulate in chronic wounds, and it is thought to impair the healing process in this setting. The underlying mechanisms involved are, however, not clear.

Using animal models of cutaneous wounds, we aim to investigate the role of iron as a factor that inhibits the process of wound healing. In collaboration with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at CMC, Vellore, we have initiated translational research work which will look at the pathophysiological role of iron overload that is often seen in pressure ulcers, a common cause of chronic non-healing ulcers. In addition, our work in this area is also focussed on evaluating iron chelation as a novel therapeutic modality to accelerate healing in such wounds.

Past research projects

A number of epidemiological studies suggest a strong association between insulin resistance and increased body iron stores. However, whether increased body iron is a cause or consequence of insulin resistance is not known. In order to study the dysregulation of iron homeostasis associated with insulin resistance, I was awarded an Early Career Fellowship by the Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance (2012-16). The India Alliance-funded work has helped elucidate the interactions between iron homeostasis and insulin sensitivity and has resulted in several publications (please see publication list).

In the past, I have been awarded a grant under the Rapid Grant for Young Investigators (RGYI) scheme of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt. of India (2008-2011), to study the role of heme oxygenase – 1 (HO-1) in the pathogenesis of iron overload associated with alcoholic liver disease. It has been reported that chronic alcoholism is associated with increased liver iron stores and that this may play a role in the pathogenesis of liver damage associated with chronic alcohol intake. However, the cause(s) for the iron accumulation in the liver in this condition is/are not entirely clear. Work on this project was aimed at elucidating the mechanisms that may be involved.


Undergraduate training

I teach undergraduate medical and nursing students. For the first year MBBS students, I teach the modules on molecular biology, water and electrolyte balance, heme metabolism, immunology, liver function tests and integration of metabolism. In my teaching, I explore innovative methods to help students understand the importance of a sound foundation in the basic medical sciences for their further development as clinicians. In this connection, I am especially interested in the use of electronic resources (e-learning) as an aid to help students learn the clinical and applied aspects of Biochemistry more effectively. I also have a special interest in teaching undergraduate and post-graduate students the basics of ethical academic/research writing.

Postgraduate training

I am involved in the training of MD (Biochemistry) students. I am the coordinator of the postgraduate training programme. I serve as a resource person for weekly post-graduate seminars and journal clubs. In addition, I am involved in the supervision (as co-guide) of research work undertaken by postgraduate students as part of their dissertation work. 


As Principal Investigator or co-principal investigator:

Ongoing extramural:

Ongoing intramural:

Past extramural:

Past intramural:

As Co-investigator:

Ongoing intramural:

Ongoing extramural:

Past extramural:


Research papers:

Chapters in books

i. Co-author of Harper’s Illustrated Biochemistry  (32nd edition , 2023) McGraw Hill Lange, USA.

The chapter written is as follows:

ii. Co-author of Harper’s Illustrated Biochemistry (31st edition , 2018) McGraw Hill Lange, USA.

The chapters written are as follows:

iii. Co-author of Harper’s Illustrated Biochemistry (30th edition, 2015) McGraw Hill Lange, USA.

The chapters written are as follows:

iv. Co-author of Harper’s Illustrated Biochemistry (29th edition, 2012) McGraw-Hill Publishers (Lange)

The chapters written are as follows: