September 21, 2001

Elasy recognized for outstanding work in diabetes

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Dr. Thomas Elasy has been chosen as one of the 15 winners of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars Program for 2001.

Elasy recognized for outstanding work in diabetes

Bringing further attention to VUMC’s extensive achievements in research, Dr. Thomas Elasy, assistant professor of Medicine, has been chosen as one of the 15 winners of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars Program for 2001.

The $300,000 grant award, which Elasy won for his proposed diabetes research project, covers a four-year period that began on July 1.

“It’s a wonderful honor both for myself and for the institution,” Elasy said. “I am delighted to have been chosen as a recipient.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a national philanthropic organization that is dedicated to the improvement of health and health care, is a long-time supporter of Vanderbilt’s research and community health care programs. In addition to supplying other Vanderbilt researchers with grants to pursue their work, the RWJF is one of the original supporters of the Center for Health Services, a community service organization of VUMC that was started in 1968 by Vanderbilt and Meharry medical students.

The foundation’s Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars Program, which began in 1993, offers career development awards to exceptional junior faculty members in medical school divisions of family practice, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics. The program was created in response to the concern that medical schools around the country were training too many specialists and very few generalists. The RWJF identifies this trend as a major impediment to providing all Americans with access to adequate health care and a contributing factor to the high cost of care in this country.

Winners are selected based on the merits of their research questions, the ability of the investigator to answer the question, and the perception that there is an adequate infrastructure to support the research at that institution.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Physician Scholarship is a highly competitive and prestigious award that will support Dr. Elasy’s current research,” said Dr. Robert S. Dittus, Albert and Bernard Werthan professor of Medicine, and Elasy’s faculty mentor for the project. “He is helping to establish the foundation to become a national leader in academic general medicine.”

According to Elasy, the foundation’s Scholars Program usually rewards research project ideas that contribute to and focus on public health care issues rather than basic science.

Elasy describes the benefit of public health research, such as his own, as passing from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside and even further on to the community.

“Traditionally, we describe research as going from the bench to the bedside,” Elasy said. “In fact, it is from the bench to the bedside to the community, and Vanderbilt is a unique institution in that it really does all three extraordinarily well. The projects that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation rewards tend to be more community-oriented, more population-based.”

Elasy’s own winning research project, titled “Prevention of Glycemic Relapse in the Primary Care Setting,” deals directly with both patient and community issues. His work focuses on an aspect of diabetes management that he says has largely been overlooked.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy needed to live.

Elasy’s grant helps establish part of the infrastructure necessary to recruit patients for a randomized clinical trial aimed at reducing the relapse rate in individuals with diabetes. Individuals will be recruited who have achieved adequate glycemic control and then randomized to different maintenance strategies to assess the “dose” of follow-up required to maintain adequate glycemic control. The strategies will vary in intensity but will focus on the four self-care behaviors in diabetes: diet, exercise, self-monitoring of blood glucose, and medication management.

“It’s a really open field about how to prevent or how to manage individuals after adequate glycemic control has been obtained,” Elasy said. “It tends to be multidisciplinary in nature, so to that end, part of the reason that this research is able to move forward is because Vanderbilt has terrific nurses and psychologists and others who participate in this research.”

But even though Elasy tends to focus on the support he receives from both Vanderbilt and his colleagues, his own talent and success should not be underestimated.

“He is an award-winning teacher, an excellent clinician and creative investigator,” Dittus said. “His research is focusing on improving the care of patients with diabetes with a special focus on improving patient behaviors that will lead to better control of the disease. This award will complement Dr. Elasy’s other recent career development award from the American Diabetes Association.”

Elasy also receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and the VA.

Every year medical schools across the country may nominate one junior faculty member to be considered for the award. Vanderbilt’s 1999 nominee, Dr. William O. Cooper, assistant professor of Pediatrics, also became a Generalist Physician Scholar. Elasy’s selection places Vanderbilt’s total number of scholars at two, the maximum number that an institution may have receiving funding at one time.