June 25, 2024

David Wasserman, groundbreaking researcher into exercise, insulin stimulation and metabolism, dies at 66

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, his work has important implications for the treatment of diabetes and heart disease.

David H. Wasserman, PhD, the Annie Mary Lyle Professor and professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) Basic Sciences, died June 20 in Nashville after battling health issues. He was 66.

David Wasserman

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Wasserman led groundbreaking research studies on the role of physical exercise, insulin stimulation and diet in metabolism. His work has important implications for the treatment of diabetes and heart disease.

“David Wasserman was a visionary, creative scientist whose work greatly advanced our understanding of how glucose is used and made and the roles of organs such as the liver, skeletal muscle, fat and the brain,” said Alvin C. Powers, MD, Joe C. Davis Chair in Biomedical Science, director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center and chief of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Vanderbilt Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center (MMPC), which Dr. Wasserman founded in 2001 and continued to direct, was an international resource for the study of phenotypes — pathological, physiological and behavioral characteristics of metabolism — in genetic mouse models.

“Dave and his colleagues freely shared the technology and experimental approaches they created with the scientific community,” said Powers, professor of Medicine, and of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. He “was also a tremendous mentor and colleague who inspired many with his enthusiasm for science and discovery.”

“Dave was a pillar of our department and, indeed, of the university as a whole,” said Nancy Carrasco, PhD, Joe C. Davis Chair in Biomedical Science, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology  and Biophysics. “He was passionately devoted to science and to Vanderbilt University as an institution, and his work raised Vanderbilt’s global reputation and profile to new heights.

“Dave was also a universally esteemed and admired colleague and friend,” said Carrasco. He “was truly an inspiration and a role model for myriad colleagues and students … His legacy will endure and will continue to guide future scientists for many years to come.”

Dr. Wasserman graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in kinesiology from UCLA. He earned his PhD in physiology from the University of Toronto.

Throughout his career, he received several prestigious awards, including the Henry Pickering Bowditch Award and the Solomon A. Berson Distinguished Lectureship from the American Physiological Society, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) MERIT Award, and faculty awards from VUSM for outstanding contributions to research.

“David was a great scientist who truly shaped the diabetes research community through his studies of glucose flux, his development of technology for diabetes and exercise research in the mouse, and his national leadership in the MMPC program,” said former Molecular Physiology & Biophysics Chair Roger Cone, PhD, now vice provost at the University of Michigan.

“He also had an incredible joie de vivre, and an iconoclastic approach to life that always made him fun to be around,” Cone said. “David brought joy to those around him. My thoughts are with everyone who knew David as we mourn the loss of a wonderful colleague and friend.”

“David was a brilliant physiologist, mentor and colleague, deeply respected and valued by his peers,” said Maren Laughlin, PhD, senior advisor for integrative physiology and co-director of the Office of Obesity Research at the National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the NIH.

“He connected with people on a highly personal and genuine level,” Laughlin said. “He brought to the basic diabetes research community a deep understanding of the complex approaches used to study diabetes in animal models, and high standards for honesty and scientific integrity. He had

“a passion for developing and sharing technology widely in order to improve the quality of metabolic research across the world.”

Dr. Wasserman is survived by his children, Micah Wasserman and Mira Wasserman, his mother, Gail Wasserman, and his siblings, Sydlee Cohen RN, MPH, NP (Jerry), Ronald Wasserman MD (Midori Jane), and Wendy Agron, RN (Scott). A private funeral service will be held in California.