Philipp Scherer, PhD, Receives 2013 Naomi Berrie Award
At 15th Annual Frontiers in Diabetes Research Conference

The Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center has honored Philipp E. Scherer, PhD, with the 2013 Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Research in Diabetes for his work that helped usher in a new understanding of fat and its role in diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Dr. Scherer is the Gifford O. Touchstone, Jr. and Randolph G. Touchstone Distinguished Chair in Diabetes Research and Director of the Touchstone Diabetes Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. His discovery of adiponectin, a hormone produced by fat, helped transform the scientific concept of fat from an inert storage depot to an endocrine organ that exerts control over the brain, muscles, and other tissues.

The award was given at the 15th Annual Frontiers in Diabetes Research Conference. It is the Berrie Center’s top honor for excellence in diabetes research. Deniz Atalayer, PhD, and Nichole Danzl, PhD, MPhil, both postdoctoral fellows at Columbia University, received the 2013 Berrie Fellow Awards, awards given annually to support junior diabetes investigators at the Berrie Center. A new award, the Russell Berrie Foundation Scholar Award, was established this year to enable international researchers to work for up to two years at Berrie Center research laboratories. The first Russell Berrie Foundation Scholar in Diabetes Research Awards were given to Luis Arnes, PhD, of Spain and Enrico Bertaggia, PhD, of Italy. These awards were made possible by the generous support of the Russell Berrie Foundation. For more information about the Frontiers Conference and a list of past award recipients, visit: http://nbdc.cumc.columbia.edu/frontiers.


“Dr. Scherer’s work in diabetes research has always ranked among the most creative in the field,” said Rudolph L. Leibel, MD, the Christopher J. Murphy Professor of Diabetes Research and Co-Director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. “His comprehensive analysis of fat tissue physiology has helped to elucidate the molecular basis for the relationship of obesity to insulin resistance, diabetes, and, metabolic syndrome; it helped to launch studies of the role of fat in inflammation and cancer.” Dr. Scherer’s studies of adiponectin revealed the hormone’s potent anti-diabetes effects: blocking glucose production in the liver and improving insulin sensitivity in muscle. Because adiponectin levels fall as fatness levels rise, drugs that increase adiponectin may be effective in fighting diabetes and other consequences of obesity. His work on the physiology of the adipocyte, cells that store energy as fat, has been reported in more than 280 publications, some of which have been cited more than 1,000 times.

With his award, Dr. Scherer will receive $130,000 to provide a two-year research fellowship for a student or research fellow in his laboratory. Dr. Scherer has selected Risheng Jeff Ye, PhD, for this support. Dr. Ye will further define the role of adipocyte derived factors, in particular the specific role of adiponectin, in the regeneration of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in the context of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Atalayer and Danzl, winners of the 2013 Fellow Award, will share a $130,000 prize. Dr. Atalayer is a postdoctoral research scientist in the laboratory of Sharon L. Wardlaw, MD, the Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Professor of Obesity Research (in Medicine) studying the regulation of body weight. Previous research has shown that blocking certain opioid receptors in the brain prevents weight gain in rodents but the same approach in humans has shown only limited success. Dr. Atalayer plans to study opioid regulation of key hypothalamic POMC and AgRP neurons, which inhibit and stimulate food intake respectively, in order to understand how this system can be more effectively manipulated in response to opioid antagonists to improve weight loss. 

Dr. Danzl is an associate research scientist in the laboratory of Megan Sykes, MD, Michael J. Friedlander Professor of Medicine, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology and of Surgical Sciences (in surgery), and Director of the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology. Dr. Danzl’s research is aimed at explaining the immunologic defects that promote the development of type 1 diabetes. In the past, such studies have relied on analysis of cells from patients who have already developed the disease, leaving unclear which defects cause disease and which are a consequence of disease. With a new mouse model that contains important elements of the human immune system, Dr. Danzl plans to identify the defects that contribute to type 1 diabetes by monitoring the immune system as the disease develops. Her aim is to find new treatment strategies for people with type 1 diabetes.

AudienceDrs. Arnes and Bertaggia, winners of the Diabetes Scholar Award, will share a $300,000 award. Dr. Arnes is a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Lori Sussel, PhD. Dr. Arnes is studying how a recently discovered group of RNA molecules in the pancreas regulates beta cell development and whether those RNAs can improve researchers’ ability to generate beta cells suitable for the treatment of patients with type 1 diabetes. Dr. Bertaggia is a postdoctoral research scientist in the laboratory of Rebecca Haeusler, PhD. Dr. Haeusler was a, 2010 Naomi Berrie Fellow. Dr. Bertaggia will investigate how bile acids may promote diabetes progression, and how they may be targeted for diabetes treatment.

Congratulations to all of this year's winners!

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