Powers announces plan to step down from key diabetes leadership rolesOct. 17, 2023, 5:03 PM
by Jill Clendening
Alvin C. Powers, MD, Joe C. Davis Professor of Biomedical Science and professor of Medicine, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, has announced plans to step down effective July 1, 2024, as director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center (VDC), director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC), and chief of the Vanderbilt Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Powers will remain in these positions until a nationwide search identifies a successor. He will continue his research on the pancreatic islet and how islet dysfunction contributes to diabetes.
“VUMC is internationally recognized for its leadership in diabetes research and for the world class care patients receive. For nearly two decades Dr. Powers has been instrumental in burnishing the legacy of these programs,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I am grateful to Al for his vision and dedication while serving our institution so ably in these roles.”
Powers was recruited to Vanderbilt as an assistant professor of Medicine in 1988. He was named director of the DRTC in 2005, director of the VDC in 2007, and chief of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism in the Department of Medicine in 2010.
“The impact Dr. Powers has had on this institution as a leader is foundational,” said Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD, the Hugh Jackson Morgan Professor of Medicine and chair of the Department of Medicine. “From his incredible mentorship of many of our trainees and young faculty to his wise counsel guiding the culture and spirit of the institution, Al has been a leader in making VUMC the strong, yet kind, place it is today as an academic health care system.”
Vanderbilt has long been a leader in diabetes, metabolism and endocrinology. The VDC serves as a point of coordination for all activities at Vanderbilt related to diabetes, obesity and metabolism, including inpatient and outpatient clinical care, research and training of the next generation of physicians and scientists. A key component is the DRTC that includes 140 faculty members from 15 departments and three colleges or schools at Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical College who conduct basic, clinical and translational research on the cause, prevention, treatment and complications of diabetes and obesity.
The DRTC, the first National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded diabetes research center in the United States, celebrated its 50th anniversary this past spring. It was founded by Oscar Crofford, MD, and then led by Daryl Granner, MD. Powers has led the competitive renewal of the DRTC program four times, most recently in 2021 with a five-year renewal of a $10.9 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The research of the center’s investigators is supported by $78 million in research funding, with five affiliated diabetes-related training grants supporting graduate and postdoctoral fellow training efforts.
“Through Dr. Powers’ leadership and cultivation of an environment that fosters collaboration, innovation and training, Vanderbilt’s research programs in diabetes have flourished. Al has established remarkable standards while nurturing generations of scientists who are having a powerful impact on this complex and chronic metabolic disease,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Chief Scientific and Strategy Officer for VUMC.
The Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism is consistently recognized in the U.S. News and Report annual rankings for its clinical excellence.
Under Powers’ leadership, the division expanded its clinical programs and research efforts, most notably the Endocrinology Fellowship, the Obesity Medicine program and an Obesity Medicine Fellowship. A Diabetes Technology Program was also established to help patients better understand and use technology to manage diabetes. The Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Clinic serves as the main hub for the clinical efforts of the division. Of the 50 faculty members currently in the division, more than three-quarters were recruited during Powers’ tenure.
Powers is an internationally renowned physician-scientist whose research on Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes focuses on pancreatic islet biology and is supported by the NIH, VA Research Service, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). He co-directs the Powers and Brissova Research Group at Vanderbilt with Marcela Brissova, PhD.
Powers has also been an advocate for diabetes care and individuals with diabetes. As the president of Medicine and Science of the American Diabetes Association in 2017 and in other national leadership roles, he has traveled to Washington, D.C. to encourage members of Congress to address disparities of health related to diabetes and to improve access and affordability of diabetes treatment and care, especially insulin pricing. Diabetes disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic populations.
Powers has also had a major impact on diabetes research and discovery through his mentorship and leadership of programs that enhance the training of future scientists. He served as director of the Vanderbilt Medical Student Research Training Program in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism from 1996-2019 and was the founding coordinator and director for the NIH/NIDDK Medical Student Research Program in Diabetes and Obesity. These two programs, now led by John Stafford, MD, PhD, have enabled more than 1,300 medical students from over 100 U.S. medical schools to conduct intensive, mentored diabetes research at NIDDK-supported Diabetes Research Centers throughout the United States.
“It has been an extraordinary privilege to work alongside my Vanderbilt colleagues to better understand what causes the many forms of diabetes and to design and implement new therapies and approaches for diabetes care,” Powers said. “Diabetes is a major health challenge for all societies in the world, making Vanderbilt’s commitment to diabetes care and research so important.
“This is the most exciting time in my career for diabetes care and research with new therapies and scientific tools to understand diabetes at the molecular level. With the outstanding Vanderbilt environment and the extremely strong support of VUMC and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, I am confident that Vanderbilt will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to better understand and treat all forms of diabetes.”
Powers’ efforts have been widely recognized by such honors as election to the Association of American Physicians and being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018. He received the David Rumbough Award for Scientific Excellence from the JDRF, the Banting Medal for Leadership and Service from the ADA and the Outstanding Educator Award from the Endocrine Society.
Powers received his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and his medical degree from the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences. After training in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, he trained in Endocrinology and Diabetes at the Joslin Diabetes Center, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.