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Alumnus Dr. Richard Bergman Receives Columbia's 2009 Naomi Berrie Award

Monday, November 16, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kerri McCabe
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USC researcher and expert in metabolism to receive Columbia's 2009 Naomi Berrie Award

Major diabetes honor recognizes USC's Richard Nathan Bergman; Fellow Award goes to junior investigator at Columbia University Medical Center

(from: Columbia University Medical Center)
NEW YORK (November 14, 2009) – Columbia University Medical Center will present the 2009 Naomi Berrie Awards to a nationally recognized diabetes researcher, and a promising young investigator, for their outstanding achievements in diabetes research.

The Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research goes to Richard Nathan Bergman, Ph.D, Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC). Dr. Bergman and three of his labs at USC are studying different aspects of the causes of type 2 diabetes, a disease which afflicts 20 million Americans, and which is a primary cause of heart disease, blindness and kidney disease.

Dr. Bergman's work ranges from cell biology to epidemiology and population genetics, but all of it is related to diabetes research.

"Dr. Bergman developed models and in vivo measurements for the factors that determine glucose metabolism. Based upon these models, he developed a glucose 'disposition index' that quantifies the nature of the interactions between insulin sensitivity and pancreatic secretion. The index is predictive of the development of type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Rudolph Leibel, co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. "These insights and approaches have been used by clinical and basic scientists studying type 2 diabetes."

The awards ceremony will take place at the 11th Annual Frontiers in Diabetes Research Conference on "Biology of the Beta Cell" being held today, November 14, 2009, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, 1150 St. Nicholas Ave., New York, New York.

Established by the Russell Berrie Foundation in 2000, the Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research was designed to promote and reward outstanding achievement in the field, while simultaneously helping to promote important scientific collaborations across institutions and furthering the careers of especially promising young diabetes investigators. Each year, the recipient – a senior scientist who has made major contributions to diabetes research – is given $100,000 to support a two-year research fellowship for a student or research fellow in his or her laboratory. The second $100,000 award supports a research fellow at Columbia.

Dr. Bergman Honored for Work with Glucose and Understanding Metabolism

Dr. Richard Bergman conceptualized the inter-relationships among factors that drive carbohydrate metabolism. Dr. Bergman was among the first to show how to measure these factors efficiently, and to thus explain the complex interactions among them: insulin sensitivity (muscle and liver), pancreatic b-cell function and previously under-appreciated insulin-independent factors.

The most significant contribution of Dr. Bergman and his colleagues is the definition of the "disposition index," still the most powerful predictor of risk for type 2 diabetes. Dr. Bergman conceptualized the "quantitative law of glucose tolerance" – he hypothesized that insulin sensitivity and secretion are stereotypically interrelated.

The disposition index describes the capacity of the pancreatic b-cells to secrete additional insulin to compensate over time for alterations in insulin sensitivity. It is now known that the disposition index is heritable and is a potent predictor of long-term normality versus dysfunction of glucose homeostasis.

Dr. Bergman's minimal model analysis has been used extensively by the diabetes research community worldwide to study metabolic dysregulation under a plethora of environmentally and genetically influenced conditions. The analytic approach of Bergman and colleagues has allowed for large-scale epidemiologic and genetic studies of diabetes and related diseases. Very recently, genetic variants have been identified which increase risk for type 2 diabetes. These genes are related to pancreatic beta-cell function, and many of them appear to be related to the disposition index in individual subjects.

Dr. Bergman has also made other major contributions to understanding of additional problems in the general area of endocrine regulation and metabolism. He discovered sensors for glucose in the abdominal portal vein that are the first line of defense in the counter-regulatory response to hypoglycemia. This latter work has important implications for countering hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetes mellitus.

"It is a great honor for me and my colleagues to receive the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Award," said Dr. Bergman. "Columbia is a great university, and the Berrie Foundation and Center support and perform the very best in diabetes research, to reduce the suffering of diabetes patients and their families. It is equally honorific to be listed among the previous recipients, who are among the best diabetes researchers in the world. Finally, I am very much looking forward to the arrival in my laboratory of Dr. Josiane Broussard, who will be supported by the Berrie Center. She is a young investigator with enormous potential."

Dr. Bergman received the Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement in 2006 as well as the Man of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, both from the American Diabetes Association. He is a graduate of the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio, where he received a B.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering in 1965. In 1971, he received his Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.

Naomi Berrie Fellow in Diabetes Research Awardee Focuses on Genetic Susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes

The junior prize goes to Elizabeth Ann Watson, a post-doctoral research scientist in the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University, for her work in determining genetic susceptibility in type 2 diabetes and elucidating the mechanisms by which the gene Ildr2 (identified at the Berrie Center), mediates susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. Her recent studies have examined the role of Ildr2 in regulating cholesterol metabolism and beta cell replication/function.

"The studies that Dr. Watson is conducting are important to elucidating novel mechanisms underlying the molecular physiology relating obesity to type 2 diabetes," Dr. Leibel said.

With other scientists in the Berrie Center, and in collaboration with Dr. Bill Blaner of the Department of Medicine, Dr. Watson has been examining the mechanisms of beta cell function and compensation in the context of obesity that are related to some of the physiological processes studied by Dr. Bergman and his colleagues. Dr. Watson holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, with a concentration in Neurobiology from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and a B.S. in Biology (1996) from the University of Virginia.

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