Columbia University Distinguishes Diabetes Researchers at Naomi Berrie Awards

Columbia University Distinguishes Diabetes Researchers at Naomi Berrie Awards
Mark McCarthy
Professor Mark McCarthy

Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) has given its 16th Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Research in Diabetes to scientists Andrew Hattersley, DM, and Mark McCarthy, MD, in recognition of their contributions to the understanding of the genetics of diabetes. The award, which was presented at the annual Frontiers in Diabetes Conference, at the CUMC’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, is the top honor granted within the field of diabetes research, and the two scientists were selected for their contributions to finding new forms of the disease, improving diagnosis, and developing more effective therapies.

Since 2000, the Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research has been awarded by the Russell Berrie Foundation in order to promote and congratulate the achievements made in the field of Diabetes research, as well as to support promising careers for investigators dedicated to research on diabetes. Hattersley and McCarthy will share the $130,000 award, which is meant to support a two-year research project.

“Over the past two decades, Drs. Hattersley and McCarthy have helped to greatly improve our understanding of the genetics of diabetes,” explained the chair of the award selection committee and co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, Rudolph L. Leibel, MD, who also serves as the Christopher J. Murphy Memorial Professor of Diabetes Research. “Together, they have led large-scale efforts that have uncovered dozens of genes associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Their work has transformed our understanding of the pathogenesis of both rare and common forms of diabetes and has led to novel clinical interventions.”

Andrew Hattersley, DM
Andrew Hattersley, DM

McCarthy’s research has been focused on the identification of the genes that are responsible for the development of type 2 diabetes, and he has, therefore, conducted prominent studies on the development of genetic approaches, including genome-wide association and next-generation sequencing, which were able to improve the capacity of finding new mechanisms that cause the disease. His career achievements include co-leading international consortia, such as DIAGRAM, ENGAGE, and the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC), which was the largest study ever conducted to study genome-wide association in type 2 diabetes by using large-scale genetic analysis techniques.

Hatterley, on the other hand, has been dedicated to studying the variations of diabetes resulting from single gene mutations, and was able to identify the different monogenic forms of the disease in both type 1 and type 2 variations. In addition, the scientist also isolated 14 genes responsible for diabetes subtypes, such as neonatal diabetes, pancreatic agenesis, and maturity-onset diabetes of the young, in collaboration with researchers from centers all over the world. His major contributions were in helping improving patient care through the development of targeted drugs for the treatment of monogenic diabetes, able to substitute injected insulin.

The two scientists worked in collaboration as they co-led research efforts in the United Kingdom to understand the genetics of type 2 diabetes. In addition, they have in common being fellows of the Royal College of Physicians, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Society of Biology in the UK, and have together published articles in about a thousand peer-reviewed scientific journals. While Hattersley also serves as professor of molecular medicine at the University of Exeter Medical School and is an honorary consultant physician with a special interest in diabetes and endocrinology at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in Exeter, UK, McCarthy serves as the Robert Turner Professor of Diabetic Medicine at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism.

In addition, CUMC also attributed its 2014 Naomi Berrie Fellow Award, an honor granted to junior diabetes investigators, to Alberto Bartolomé, PhD.Bartolomé, a postdoctoral fellow, has been dedicated to the study of Notch signaling, an important pathway for the development of embryonic beta cells. He was awarded with a fellowship opportunity that includes an intensive training that will take place at a biomedical research laboratory, as well as a $130,000 fellow’s research program.

Maria Caterina De Rosa from Italy, and Rim Hassouna, PhD from France, were the two investigators chosen to win the 2014 Russell Berrie Foundation Scholar Award, dedicated to funding international researchers with a $150,000 grant and enabling their work at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center for two years. Rosa’s research is focused on the gene responsible for the production of transmembrane protein, Ildr2, which is crucial for the survival of beta cells, while Hassouna is currently using mouse models to study the factors that trigger childhood obesity.

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