Longtime NIDDK grantee Dr. Jeffrey Friedman
On the day Dr. Jeffrey Friedman won the Lasker Award for his part in the discovery of the hormone leptin, he arrived at NIH to take part in another honor: a longtime grantee, he was one of nine researchers presenting at
NIDDK’s 60th anniversary symposium—an honor, he said, he wouldn’t miss.
“NIDDK is indispensible for promoting work of this sort,” said Friedman about the discovery of leptin, an advance for which he and Dr. Douglas Coleman shared the 2010 Lasker Award. “I felt like [NIDDK] gave me support in ways that went beyond the funding.”
The Sept. 21 symposium—“Unlocking the Secrets of Science: Building the Foundation for Future Advances”—nodded to the past but focused squarely on the future. Its three co-chairs, Drs. Phillip Gorden, Lester Salans and Allen Spiegel—all former NIDDK directors—orchestrated a day as diverse as NIDDK’s
Celebrating Past Discoveries
While Friedman, an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Rockefeller University,
spoke about “The New Biology of Obesity,” other talks discussed the human gut microbiome,
benign prostatic hyperplasia and chromatin
boundaries, insulators and the epigenetic regulation of gene expression, the last a talk by intramural researcher Dr. Gary Felsenfeld.
“The speakers are national leaders in their fields, and we wanted to represent the breadth of the institute,” said Gorden, currently an
NIDDK intramural researcher. “All these talks represent major [ways] the institute has impacted
the lives of people. In each area of our mission,
people’s lives are better.”
Presenter Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of the Harvard
University Faculty of Medicine, credited
NIDDK funding for enabling many scientists
in his field to continue their research. He saluted NIDDK intramural researchers as well. “The field of diabetes and obesity, as I pursued it for many years, had a lot of its origins in the
NIDDK intramural research” program, he said.
l:Dr. Laura Calvi of the University
of Rochester Medical Center, one of 12 recipients of the NIDDK 60th Anniversary
Early Career Investigator/Scholar Awards, talks about her research with Dr. Daniel Wright, senior scientific advisor and program director for hematology
research in NIDDK’s Division of Kidney, Urologic and Hematologic Diseases.
Above, r:Three former directors of NIDDK joined current NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers (second from l) at the institute’s 60th anniversary symposium. They are (from l) Dr. Lester Salans, Dr. Phillip Gorden and Dr. Allen Spiegel.
Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, section chief of obesity at the Joslin Diabetes Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, was in NIDDK’s intramural program for more than a decade and has been a grantee for nearly two more. “NIDDK, despite the categorical name, actually covers almost anything,” said Kahn, who advocated for a “whole body” approach to research during his presentation. “It has its focus areas, but it’s also got the big picture.”
Salans, now a professor at Mt. Sinai Medical School and director of Forest Laboratories, said the symposium provided not only a venue for bringing together diverse scientists at the top of their fields, but also served as an opportunity
to show that “science can be as exciting as we heard today.”
Mary Schluckebier, executive director of the Celiac Sprue Association, wanted to show her appreciation for NIH’s efforts by traveling from Nebraska for the day’s events. She was grateful
for both the speakers’ talks and the materials
that showcased research advances. “It’s very interesting to see how many commonalities there are and how much there still is to learn.”
Spiegel, now dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the institute’s impact over the last six decades has been, “in one word—huge.
“The work NIDDK has supported has measurably
improved people’s health and that deserves to be celebrated,” he said. “But as much as NIDDK can take justifiable pride in its accomplishments, we certainly can’t declare ‘mission accomplished.’ As NIDDK director Griff Rodgers states in his message in the 60th anniversary booklet, we need to build on these accomplishments if we hope to ameliorate some of the major diseases within NIDDK’s mission.”
Encouraging Future Advances
At an anniversary gala, NIH principal deputy director
Dr. Lawrence Tabak delivers the keynote talk.
One way the institute is building on accomplishments
is by nurturing early career scientists,
12 of whom were recognized at the symposium and received Early Career Investigator/Scholar Awards at an anniversary gala the same evening.
The gala’s keynote speaker, NIH principal deputy
director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, continued the discussion, encouraging future generations in their pursuit of scientific discovery and emphasizing
the need to convey to the public the importance of science.
“Science needs to be part of the conversation, because science is integral to the solution,” he said. Referring to the young award winners, he added, “You have done, as part of your celebration,
one of the most important things you can do,” he said, in nurturing “the next generation of investigators.”
As the institute moves onward, Gorden feels its “vital research community” is ready to tackle the challenges ahead, taking maximum advantage of technical advances to assist in their research.
From the first human liver transplant in the 1960s to the identification of genes or gene regions commonly associated with diabetes in this century, among many other advances,
NIDDK-supported “research has laid the groundwork for today’s discoveries,” said Rodgers.
“We anticipate major victories within some of these areas.”