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Magnuson honored for role in Beta Cell Biology Consortium

Jul. 24, 2014, 9:34 AM

Mark Magnuson, M.D., Louise B. McGavock Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University, has received a national leadership award for the Beta Cell Biology Consortium (BCBC), a major team science initiative.

Mark Magnuson, M.D., with the award he received for his leadership of the Beta Cell Biology Consortium. (photo by Joe Howell)

Mandated by Congress and launched by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health in 2001, the BCBC involved 185 investigators from 106 institutions worldwide.

Vanderbilt played a central leadership role in the consortium by serving as the site for its Coordinating Center and by carrying on several projects to better understand the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, which are destroyed or become dysfunctional in diabetes.

Working with NIDDK program staff, Magnuson managed to create “a structured environment of trust and common purpose” between BCBC investigators that accelerated the exchange of data and reagents between laboratories, facilitated constant interactions and led to “many fruitful scientific collaborations,” said NIDDK director Griffin Rodgers, M.D.

“Today, thanks in large part to BCBC investigators, the endocrine pancreas is one of the best described complex tissues,” he said. “This knowledge can now be applied to develop new therapeutic strategies to protect and grow beta cell mass in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.”

Rodgers presented Magnuson with a special Leadership Award during the final BCBC Investigator Retreat in Bethesda, Maryland, this spring.

Alvin Powers, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center, said “the presence of the BCBC Coordinating Center at Vanderbilt and Dr. Magnuson’s leadership helped many people make meaningful scientific contributions to this important international effort.”

A major focus of the BCBC was to learn how to turn human embryonic stem cells or patient-derived “induced pluripotent” stem (iPS) cells into functional beta-like cells and other hormone-producing islet cells of the pancreas.

Rodgers predicted beta-like cells made this way will be used to replace those destroyed by type 1 diabetes “on a much larger scale and at a smaller cost” than transplanting donated human islets.

The cells also can be used to study the development of diabetes, test new diabetes drugs and discover compounds that may protect beta cells, he said.

Magnuson, also director of the Vanderbilt Center for Stem Cell Biology, said the consortium “served as a model for team science within the NIH.”

In addition to Magnuson and Powers, BCBC investigators at Vanderbilt include Christopher Wright, D.Phil., Roland Stein, Ph.D., Maureen Gannon, Ph.D., and Guoqiang Gu, Ph.D.

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