Vanderbilt Diabetes Day celebrates investigational achievements, looks toward futureMay. 23, 2022, 10:11 AM
by Jill Clendening
Vanderbilt Diabetes Day, an annual event that showcases the work of outstanding scientists and researchers in the fields of diabetes, obesity and metabolism was held this month, and it marked the first time many investigators working under the auspices of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC) had gathered in one space since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very exciting to have the first in-person Diabetes Day in two years, and it was wonderful to see the diverse array of interdisciplinary science presented,” said Alvin Powers, MD, director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center and chief of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism in the Department of Medicine. “Watching the interactions of trainees representing many areas of diabetes research was inspiring. The collaborative, collegial spirit in the room was a welcome experience after so much time spent in remote connections.”
The day-long event included podium presentations, multiple networking opportunities and the presentations of 61 posters representing a wide range of specialties and topics. The plenary lecture was given by Gary Schwartz, PhD, professor of Medicine from Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Vanderbilt faculty giving presentations on their current research included William Martinez, MD, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of General Medicine and Public Health; Jennifer Below, PhD, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Genetic Medicine; Ashley Shoemaker, MD, MSCI, assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes; and Rafael Arrojo e Drigo, PhD, assistant professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.
Powers opened the event by discussing advances in diabetes research and clinical care as well as the recent achievements of investigators at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The Vanderbilt DRTC is a National Institutes of Health-sponsored Diabetes Research Center that facilitates the discovery, application, and translation of scientific knowledge to improve the lives of people with diabetes. The Vanderbilt center includes 140 faculty members distributed among 15 departments at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center and at neighboring Meharry Medical College.
Powers noted that the work of the center’s investigators and their teams is currently supported by $78 million in research funding, while six diabetes-related training grants support the educational efforts of the group. In the more than 540 diabetes-related publications from 2016-2021 over half included contributions from more than one DRTC member.
While the pandemic kept many scientists from traveling to collaborate with colleagues and initially limited some of the educational and research efforts of the DRTC, Powers pointed to a significant success lead by Sean Davies, PhD, the center’s director of Enrichment, Training and Outreach. Davies established a virtual seminar series that since May 2020 has hosted 34 seminars for more than 2,000 registrants from ten countries. The effort is a multi-institutional undertaking of all the NIH-funded Diabetes Research Centers in the United States.
Powers also noted three new research cores that have been established locally by the DRTC to advance science related to diabetes, obesity and metabolism. The Animal Metabolic Physiology Core and new Mouse Diabetes Clinic at Vanderbilt, both directed by Dave Wasserman, PhD, offer specialized mouse services to Vanderbilt investigators and outside investigators.
The new Genomics and Human Physiology Core, directed by Jennifer Below, PhD, and Kevin Niswender, MD, PhD, assists investigators working in diabetes physiology and metabolism, as well as provides informatics and computational support for human genomic and transcriptomic investigation, especially that involve BioVU.
“These types of meetings are incredibly valuable for a number of reasons,” said Schwartz, following his plenary lecture. “They help support students, junior faculty and junior clinicians, and help increase their understanding with clinical research efforts as well as basic science research. This meeting also helps acknowledge and recognize the major scientific contributions of individuals at every level and helps build a real sense of community. It also helps everybody take pride in both the breadth and the depth of the research program here at Vanderbilt and how much impact it has not only locally but nationally for people with diabetes.”
Diabetes Day was sponsored by the Vanderbilt DRTC and supported by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).