May 26, 2006

Symposium spotlights Vanderbilt’s efforts in diabetes research

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Alli Antar, a graduate student in the lab of Alyssa Hasty, Ph.D., discusses her poster with Alan Cherrington, Ph.D., and Daryl Granner, M.D.
Photo by Anne Rayner

Symposium spotlights Vanderbilt’s efforts in diabetes research

More than 200 Vanderbilt researchers came together last week at the annual Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC) Symposium to discuss the cutting-edge diabetes research being performed at Vanderbilt.

Diabetes, perhaps the only major disease in which death rates are still rising, can involve every major organ system in the human body, noted Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in his opening remarks.

“Diabetes and the complications of diabetes involve almost every scientific discipline and medical specialty, and VUMC has an international reputation for excellence in diabetes-related research,” Gabbe said.

This excellence was demonstrated in an afternoon-long symposium featuring research spanning basic, clinical and translational sciences. Naji Abumrad, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery, discussed the benefits of gastric bypass surgery on diabetes outcomes. Tom Elasy, M.D., medical director of the Vanderbilt-Eskind Diabetes Clinic, presented findings suggesting that face-to-face delivery of patient education and a focus on the benefits of exercise are among the factors that predict long-term maintenance of acceptable glucose levels.

From a basic science perspective, Maureen Gannon, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, described work in her and other Vanderbilt laboratories to understand how the pancreatic islet, the insulin-producing organ, develops and functions. Gannon also discussed her identification of a transcription factor — Foxm1 — that supports beta-cell regeneration in the pancreas. The search for genes that affect beta-cell growth, proliferation and function could be key in helping researchers develop stem cell-based therapies for treating diabetes, she said.

Billy Hudson, Ph.D., director of the Matrix Biology Center, discussed his group's efforts to protect extracellular matrix components from glucose-induced damage with a compound related to vitamin B6. The compound's potential to slow the progression of diabetic kidney disease is being investigated in clinical trials.

Researchers from departments across the Vanderbilt campus presented their latest findings at the poster session of DRTC symposium, which featured more than 55 poster presentations.

“We were delighted that the symposium was able to highlight the different types of diabetes-related research going on at Vanderbilt, ranging from basic science to clinical investigation to translational science,” said Alvin Powers, M.D., director of the DRTC.

Wrapping up the scientific presentations, Christopher Newgard, Ph.D., director of the Sarah Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Duke University Medical Center, detailed his group's efforts to build a “comprehensive toolbox” of methods, including biochemical and informatics techniques, to identify metabolic pathways involved in glucose-stimulated insulin secretion.

The annual event was sponsored by the Vanderbilt DRTC, which supports basic science and clinical research on the etiology, prevention, treatment and complications of diabetes. The Vanderbilt DRTC facilitates the diabetes-related research of more than 90 scientists and physicians in 18 departments at four Vanderbilt colleges and Meharry Medical School.