“The reason I go to work in the morning is to cure diabetes,” Domenico Accili, MD, told an audience of 200 guests who attended the Berrie Center’s Diabetes Research Panel at the University Club in New York City on the evening of April 29. Dr. Accili, the Russell Berrie Foundation Professor of Diabetes, joined four other panelists, all top Columbia University scientists, in providing an update to guests, many of whom were patients and families of loved ones who receive their care at the Berrie Center.
The panel discussion highlighted some of the most promising and prominent projects taking place in laboratories at Columbia and was moderated by Berrie Center Co-Directors Robin Goland, MD, J. Merrill Eastman Professor of Clinical Diabetes, and Rudolph Leibel, MD, Christopher J. Murphy Memorial Professor of Diabetes, who introduced the panelists:
- Domenico Accili, MD, discussed how manipulating beta cells in the pancreas led his team to discover a new source of insulin production—in the gut, or intestine. He is already working with drug manufacturers to develop a medication that would have the same effect—making the gut produce insulin—which would directly enter the blood stream, eliminating the need for people with T1D to inject insulin.
- Dieter Egli, PhD, explained how he is turning human skin cells, collected from people with T1D at the Berrie Center, into stem cells, and then insulin producing beta cells. He can now go from skin cells to stem cells to pancreatic beta cells.
Anthony Ferrante Jr., MD, PhD, who studies a type of immune cell called macrophages—prevalent in adipose tissue—hopes to develop a new kind of medicine that will lead to weight loss and prevention of T2D.
- Lori Sussel, PhD, one of the leading developmental biologists in the world, spoke of creating a healthy supply of beta cells by studying the earliest stage of beta cell development in mice embryos. She is interested in why beta cells are targeted by the immune system in people with T1D, and in engineering better beta cells.
- Megan Sykes, MD, believes she can cure diabetes through bone marrow transplants—and is working to re-educate the immune system to recognize a foreign body as self, elimiating the need for transplant recipients to take problematic immunosuppressant drugs. She told the audience how she creates personalized immune mice (PIMs) by injecting them with bone marrow from Berrie Center patients with T1D in order to study the individual autoimmune response.
Enlightening and thought-provoking, the research panel sparked a dialogue between guests and Columbia’s community of diabetes physicians and scientists that will be the catalyst to raising the critical funds that are needed to move us closer to developing better treatments and, ultimately, cures for diabetes.
Questions from the audience—from what triggers T1D and why diabetes is linked to other autoimmune diseases to what kind of funding is required to bring the scientists’ projects to fruition—reflected a high level of engagement in the evening. “All of these projects require a tremendous amount of money,” said Dr. Leibel. “We pick projects that are high risk but will also have high payoffs.” He explained how he has watched the reduction of NIH funding over the year and now, with the government sequester, is seeing it drop by another 8% to 20%. “For every 100 grants reviewed by the NIH, only 10 will get funded.” At the end of the evening, John Eastman, Co-Chair of the Berrie Center Executive Committee, delivered a brief, impassioned speech about the importance of philanthropic support to achieve a cure, “now more than ever before,” he said.
Click here or call the Berrie Center's Development Office at 917-484-0090 to support diabetes research at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center.
Our sincere appreciation to Mary Elizabeth Bunzel, Paul B. Healy and Alka K. Singh who hosted the NYC Diabetes Research Panel, a night to remember.