November 20, 2009

Awards honor potential of investigators’ diabetes research

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Honored at the Diabetes Day symposium were, from left, Bonnie Surmi, Richard Benninger, Ph.D., and Daniel Moore, M.D., Ph.D. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Awards honor potential of investigators’ diabetes research

The Vanderbilt Scholars in Diabetes awards, which recognize trainees' potential as future leaders in diabetes research, were presented at last week's “Diabetes Day” research symposium.

Bonnie Surmi received the award in the graduate student category. Working with Alyssa Hasty, Ph.D., Surmi has been studying the pathological changes that occur in white adipose tissue (fat) during the progression of obesity.

Based on evidence that inflammation in the fat can lead to insulin resistance, thus linking obesity with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, she is examining the role of macrophage inflammatory protein-1a (a chemoattractant molecule or “chemokine”) in recruiting leukocytes (white blood cells) into adipose tissue.

Richard Benninger, Ph.D., research instructor in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, received the award in the postdoctoral category. In the lab of David Piston, Ph.D., Benninger is investigating signaling mechanisms within pancreatic islets that underlie glucose stimulated insulin secretion.

Determining how these signaling mechanisms might be modulated to enhance insulin secretion may offer guidance for the development of transplantation and stem cell therapies for type 1 diabetes as well as identifying novel therapeutic targets for type 2 diabetes.

The award in the M.D. postdoctoral category was presented to Daniel Moore, M.D., Ph.D., a fellow in Pediatric Endocrinology. Moore's laboratory work is focused on understanding how immune tolerance is broken to produce type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder. Working with mentor Jacek Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D., Moore has successfully applied anti-inflammatory therapy to prevent diabetes in a mouse model of the disease.

In addition to this pre-clinical investigation, Moore is also working with Hawiger and co-mentor James Thomas, M.D., to investigate how pro-inflammatory environmental cues trigger diabetes progression, which could provide a new understanding of interactions between the environment and immune system and lead to new therapeutic targets.

The awards were established by the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC), whose mission includes training the next generation of diabetes researchers.

The Vanderbilt DRTC is an interdisciplinary, interdepartmental center that supports investigators performing basic science research, clinical investigation, and translational research, and includes more than 90 investigators in 18 departments and four colleges at Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical School.