From the Bedside to the Bench: Translational Research At the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center

Meet Matthew Freeby, MD, an adult endocrinologist and the newly named Hunter Eastman Scholar of Translational Diabetes Research at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. “The Hunter Eastman Scholarship helps foster the high level of collaboration that you need among basic and clinical researchers to make progress toward a cure for diabetes,” said Dr. Freeby. “I’m really excited to provide the clinical, patient-centered component of this research.”

Recently, Dr. Freeby—who came to the Berrie Center in 2008 after finishing a fellowship at Columbia—answered questions about the stem cell research that he does in collaboration with Columbia University and New York Stem Cell Foundation research scientist, Dieter Egli, PhD.

You hear the phrase, “from the bedside to the bench” as a way to describe translational research. Is this an accurate way to describe translational diabetes research?

The research at the Berrie center is varied and not only strives to improve diabetes care on a day-to-day basis, but also aims to someday provide a cure. To this end, I work with our basic researchers to provide the human samples that are used in stem cell research. We aim to produce viable insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells that may one day be used in our patients.

Your work is captivating.  Please tell us what you do.   

It is really amazing. A single skin biopsy is able to provide an indefinite supply of cells used in Dr. Dieter Egli’s stem cell research. The skin punch biopsy is a routine office procedure. The 3 mm skin sample is then dispersed into a culture of fibroblast cells in the laboratory. These cells are then used for further study.

How will this research eventually help people with type 1 diabetes?

Dr. Egli takes a research subject’s skin cells, turns them into stem cells and then into various cell types. Stem cells, including a type called induced pleuripotential stem cells (IPS cells), have the ability to turn into any cell type. IPS cells generated from skin cells can be transformed into pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin. In current studies, Dr. Egli and colleagues are characterizing these cells.  In the future, these cells may be used in studies of human subjects with diabetes.

Are your patients excited to be involved in the future of diabetes? Can you tell us something about the people who participate in this research?

The project has yielded numerous volunteers to date, including children and adults. The research began as a project in type 1 diabetes and continues along this path. But we have also branched out into other types of diabetes such as monogenic diabetes or cystic-fibrosis-related diabetes. Everyone is excited about this project; it may lead to answers about the underlying process of diabetes. It also has implications in treatment, and has the potential to lead to the development of cures.

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