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Harvard expert on inflammation's role in obesity receives Columbia's 2010 Naomi Berrie Award

NEW YORK (Nov. 20, 2010) Columbia University Medical Center will present the 2010 Naomi Berrie Award to a Harvard researcher who has made important advances in understanding the molecular basis for links between obesity, diabetes and heart disease. A promising young investigator at Columbia will also be recognized for her novel investigations regarding the basis for disordered lipid metabolism in diabetes.

  • The 2010 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research: Gkhan S. Hotamisligil, M.D., Ph.D., the James Stevens Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism and the Chair of the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases at the Harvard University School of Public Health.

  • The 2010 Naomi Berrie Fellow in Diabetes Research Award to a junior investigator: Rebecca A. Haeusler, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research scientist at the Columbia University Diabetes and Endocrinology Research Center at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center.

The awards ceremony will take place at the 12th Annual Frontiers in Diabetes Research Conference on "The Cardiovascular Consequences of Diabetes" being held today, Nov. 20, 2010, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:25 p.m. in the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, 1150 St. Nicholas Ave., New York, New York.

"Gkhan Hotamisligil's group studies have demonstrated that inflammation plays an important role in obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes," said Rudolph Leibel, M.D., the co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, and chairman of the selection committee. "This work has led to novel ideas for the treatment of these disorders and their consequences."

Established by the Russell Berrie Foundation in 2000, the Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research was designed to promote and reward outstanding achievement in the field, while simultaneously helping to promote important scientific collaborations across institutions and furthering the careers of especially promising young diabetes investigators. Each year, the recipient a senior scientist outside Columbia who has made major contributions to diabetes research is given $100,000 to support a two-year research fellowship for a student or research fellow in his or her laboratory. The second $100,000 award supports a research fellow at Columbia.

Dr. Hotamisligil Focuses on Immune Response and Underlying Mechanisms of Obesity

Recent years have witnessed a significant revision of the traditional view that fat cells simply store excess energy. Studies by Dr. Hotamisligil and his associates, as well as many others, have demonstrated that adipose tissue produces and regulates many metabolic and hormonal signals, generating profound effects on a body's endocrine equilibrium and in the development of diabetes.

Dr. Hotamisligil's research has played a preeminent role in the emergence of the concept that chronic inflammation is central to obesity and associated metabolic disorders, especially insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. He developed one of the models designed to definitively link inflammation, immune response and insulin action when he discovered that JNK (Jun N-terminal kinase), a protein that influences DNA transcription and other cellular processes, is implicated in the control of expression of many genes involved in immune response On a cellular level, he has also identified the endoplasmic reticulum as a locus integrating nutrient and stress responses and its dysfunction as an important mechanism underlying obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Hotamisligil made early observations regarding cytokine production in adipose tissue, and has used these insights to understand the mechanisms that connect cytokine action to defective insulin signaling. Recently, his group identified an important connection between nutrients, JNK activity and endoplasmic reticulum function stress through a pathogen-sensing molecule. He has promoted the concept of the existence of "metabolic inflammasomes" that integrate metabolic processes with immune response and insulin signaling. These concepts link organelle function to metabolic homeostasis and suggest critical mechanisms involved in metabolic functions of endoplasmic reticulum and its failure in obesity.

Dr. Hotamisligil is the 2010 recipient of the Turkish Government Ministry's Health & Medical Excellence Award. In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He obtained his Ph.D. in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology from Harvard Medical School in 1995 and his M.D. from Ankara University Medical School in Ankara, Turkey in 1986. He is currently an advisory member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Research Portfolio.

Naomi Berrie Fellow in Diabetes Research Awardee Focuses on Metabolic Pathways of Diabetes

The award to a the junior investigator goes to Rebecca A. Haeusler, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research scientist in the lab of Domenico Accili, M.D., director of the Columbia University Diabetes and Endocrinology Research Center at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. Dr. Haeusler was cited for her work in understanding the roles of a certain transcription factor, FOXO1, in the disordered lipid metabolism and cardiovascular disease in diabetes.

Through her work she has found that FOXO1 protects against excessive hepatic lipid production in the context of hyperglycemia, and that its inhibition a consequence of intensive insulin treatment used in diabetes may paradoxically exacerbate some of the lipid abnormalities of diabetes. These insights have immediate implications for the clinical management of diabetes.

Dr. Haeusler hopes to extend these insights into the common abnormalities of lipid metabolism that are observed in patients with type 2 diabetes. "Understanding those processes will help us understand how atherosclerosis progresses over time, especially in the patients with type 2 diabetes," she added.

Dr. Haeusler earned her Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry from the University of Michigan in 2007 and her bachelor's degree in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000. She has received the Marija Dokmanovic-Chouinard Award for Excellence in Research, awarded by the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center and the Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition in October 2009; and was a Kern Aspen Lipid Conference Scholarship recipient, also in 2009. Her dissertation won the award for exceptional Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Michigan in 2007, out of 750 Ph.D. dissertations submitted.

Past recipients of the Naomi Berrie award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research are Graeme Bell, Ph.D., University of Chicago (2000); C. Ronald Kahn, M.D., Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School, (2001); Clifton Bogardus III, M.D., National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (2002); George S. Eisenbarth, M.D., Ph.D., the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (2003); Douglas Melton, Ph.D. of Harvard University (2004), Michael Brownlee of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (2005); and Michael Schwartz, M.D., University of Washington (2006) and Gerald I. Shulman, M.D. Ph.D., of Yale University (2007) Bruce Spiegelman, Ph.D., Harvard University (2008) and Richard Nathan Bergman, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California.


Contact: Alex Lyda
Columbia University Medical Center

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