March 30, 2007

Powers to lead Vanderbilt Diabetes Center

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Alvin Powers, M.D.

Powers to lead Vanderbilt Diabetes Center

Alvin Powers, M.D., has been named director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center (VDC), a comprehensive center that coordinates all diabetes treatment, prevention and research efforts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

He will succeed Daryl Granner, M.D., who has served as VDC director since the center's formal establishment in 1993.

Powers is the current director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC), an NIH-funded grant within the VDC that provides infrastructure support for diabetes-related research and training programs at Vanderbilt.

“We are delighted that Dr. Powers has accepted the position as director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center,” said Harry Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “Al is a highly regarded scientist and clinician, both locally and nationally. His long and successful history at Vanderbilt gives me the greatest confidence that he will continue to grow our diabetes-related research, clinical and training efforts, and position the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center as the preeminent diabetes center in the country.”

“Al's vision, leadership skills and collaborative approach reflect Vanderbilt at its best,” said Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. “Building on the strong foundation and accomplishments the Center has achieved, he will move our Diabetes Center to the forefront of the fight against the growing public health crisis of diabetes in America.”

Diabetes, which affects around 18 million in the United States alone, is a rapidly growing health threat in every country in the world, even developing nations.

“Vanderbilt recognized decades ago that diabetes mellitus was a significant challenge for our patients, our providers and researchers,” said Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine.

“Over the years, the number of patients with diabetes, specifically those with type 2 diabetes, has risen dramatically. With Dr. Powers' leadership we are prepared to build on our past foundations of success and take on this new challenge.”

The Vanderbilt Diabetes Center is an umbrella organization established to coordinate and facilitate all diabetes-related efforts at Vanderbilt, including research, patient care, and philanthropic activities. The VDC can trace its beginnings to 1973, when Vanderbilt was awarded the first NIH-funded diabetes center, under the leadership of Oscar Crofford, M.D.

As one of five NIH-funded DRTCs, Vanderbilt's 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.

The Vanderbilt DRTC has a formal NIH-supported collaboration with Meharry Medical College. It also works closely with three NIH-supported training programs geared toward the education and training of the next generation of scientists and scholars in the field of diabetes.

In addition to supporting research and training programs, the VDC's clinical arm — the Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Clinic — provides state-of-the-art, comprehensive clinical care for individuals of all ages.

Powers sees the unique combination of basic research and clinical programs already in place at Vanderbilt as an exciting opportunity to make headway against the disease.

“This is a very exciting time in diabetes. Already a major health problem in Tennessee, the United States, and throughout the world, diabetes is rapidly increasing in frequency. Through research, there is an improved understanding of the causes of diabetes and the obstacles to delivering optimal care,” Powers said.

“We hope that the Diabetes Center will improve the lives of people with diabetes by supporting research that develops new therapies to treat or prevent diabetes, as well as improving the way care is delivered in both the outpatient and inpatient settings. With the rapidly expanding number of therapies for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the expertise in the Eskind Diabetes Clinic is very important to Vanderbilt's efforts in diabetes.”

To further these goals, Powers noted that the VDC will be recruiting additional faculty members in both basic and clinical investigation through partnerships with strong research programs in clinical and basic science departments at Vanderbilt. He also plans to continue to enhance and strengthen diabetes training programs at the predoctoral, postdoctoral and junior faculty levels.

The administrative offices and newly recruited faculty will be located on the eighth floor of the new MRB IV building and the eighth floor of Light Hall.

“We're excited about our possibilities and opportunities,” said Powers, the Ruth K. Scoville Professor of Medicine.

“We have a very strong group of investigators in many areas of diabetes, who will be instrumental in determining future areas of research for the Diabetes Center.”

“Al is a terrific talent who brings substantial expertise, energy and a clear and compelling vision for advancing diabetes discovery and care,” said Tom Elasy, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Clinic. “The diabetes community is fortunate to have such a skilled and devoted individual leading a broad and deep portfolio of diabetes initiatives.”

Powers, also a professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, received his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and his medical degree from the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in Memphis. He completed his training in Internal Medicine at Duke University Medical Center, and trained in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the Joslin Diabetes Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School.

Since coming to Vanderbilt in 1988, Powers has been a leader in the study of pancreatic biology, pancreatic islet transplantation and diabetes. His research has focused on understanding how glucose stimulates insulin secretion by pancreatic islet cells and how diabetes-linked abnormalities in this process may be reversed.

Powers holds numerous leadership roles in research, clinical care and education. He serves on the Cellular Aspects of Diabetes and Obesity Study Section of the NIH and the Islet Biology Study Section of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

For the past 10 years, Powers has served as director of the Vanderbilt Short-Term Research Training in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism for medical students, and in 2006, became chair of the Steering Committee of the NIH Islet Cell Resource Consortium.

As director of the DRTC since 2006, Powers has overseen the inception of a weekly diabetes seminar series, a new annual diabetes research symposium, called “Diabetes Day,” and the establishment of the annual “Vanderbilt Scholar in Diabetes” awards, which are presented to postdoctoral and medical fellows conducting diabetes-related research.

“Al is an excellent choice,” said Daryl Granner, M.D., the Joe C. Davis Professor of Biomedical Science and outgoing director of the VDC. “He's very good at working with people. He has made some very interesting and needed changes in the DRTC (competitive renewal) application, which is the cornerstone of the Center, taking it in new and appropriate directions. He's really shown his leadership in that regard.”

“Al will do a great job,” Granner said. “I think the Diabetes Center is in good hands.”