July 27, 2007

Newly endowed chair to support Cherrington’s diabetes research

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Alan Cherrington, Ph.D.

Newly endowed chair to support Cherrington’s diabetes research

Alan Cherrington, Ph.D., former chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been named to a newly endowed chair in diabetes research.

The Jacquelyn A. Turner and Dr. Dorothy J. Turner Chair in Diabetes Research will support Cherrington's laboratory, which is studying the metabolic abnormalities associated with diabetes and ways to improve treatment of the disease.

“It's wonderful,” said Cherrington, an internationally known scientist and former president of the American Diabetes Association who ended his nine-year tenure as department chairman on June 29. “The Chair provides a solid source of support, which will help greatly in directing the research here.”

Albert Beth, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of the department, has been appointed interim chair while a national search is conducted for Cherrington's successor.

Under Cherrington's direction, the department doubled its faculty (from 36 to 71) and quadrupled the number of women faculty (from four to 16); doubled the size of its graduate program; and more than tripled the annual research funding it receives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Between 2004 and 2006, the department was ranked as the top physiology department in the United States in terms of NIH funding. Last year's funding, $29.6 million, was an 8 percent increase over the previous year. Figures have not yet been released for the 2007 fiscal year.

“We have excellent faculty members who are internationally known in their fields, and they're just very successful in getting grants,” Cherrington explained.

“In addition, with their help, we were able to select young scientists to come here who also were of the highest quality,” he added. “And so it's not surprising that the department continued to flourish.”

The endowed chair is named for the two daughters of Jim Turner, a major league pitcher and pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees who retired in 1973 after more than 30 years in baseball.

Jacquelyn A. Turner, a 1952 Vanderbilt graduate, taught chemistry and coached the women's basketball team at Nashville's Hillsboro High School. Dorothy J. Turner, M.D., earner her bachelor's, master's and medical degrees from Vanderbilt, practiced in Nashville and was a state public health officer.

Helen Engles, Jim Turner's niece and a Vanderbilt alumna, is a retired educator who served as executor of the estate.

The bequest will also provide a second endowed chair to be used to recruit a renowned researcher in Alzheimer's disease, said Cindy Seay, assistant vice chancellor for VUMC Development.

“Helen and her husband, Wallace, are to be commended for their stewardship of the estate, which made two chairs possible.”

Cherrington, whose work has helped define how the nervous and endocrine systems affect glucose production and glucose uptake by the liver, said he is excited about the prospect of spending more time on research and advocacy.

“Given the issues around diabetes, I felt that the last few years of my professional career should be spent focusing on my research program and on trying to impact issues around diabetes,” he said.

He will continue working with the pharmaceutical industry on the development of minimally invasive glucose monitoring, oral and inhaled insulin preparations, and on exploring new targets for drug development.

And he will continue to help raise funds for Vanderbilt's diabetes effort, as well as the American Diabetes Association, “to expedite the research process and to help sustain the careers of young investigators.”

“It's very tough these days to get money, and I think it's the responsibility of senior investigators like myself to try and facilitate the progress of the young investigators,” Cherrington said. “It's something that I take very seriously.”

Cherrington, who turned 60 last fall, said he plans to continue working as long as he's healthy, is able to get research funding and “as long as I enjoy it as I do now … I'm very excited about this new phase of my career.”