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NIH Awards $10M to Einstein for Diabetes Research

Continued Support for One of Nation's Key Diabetes Research Training Centers

May 25, 2010 — (BRONX, NY) — The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University a five-year, $9.5 million grant for the continuation of its Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC). The DRTC was also awarded a $632,000 supplemental grant for equipment and additional pilot and feasibility studies through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), bringing total NIH support to $10,177,000.

DRTC Executive Committee and Administrator
DRTC Executive Committee and Administrator *
“These grants come at a critical time,” said Jeffrey Pessin, Ph.D., principal investigator and director of Einstein’s DRTC who holds the Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg Professorial Chair in Diabetes Research and is also professor of medicine and of molecular pharmacology at Einstein.

“Diabetes is already a major threat to public health and its prevalence is quickly rising — not only here in the Bronx, but also nationally and internationally,” continued Dr. Pessin. “With this new funding, we will be able to continue our important work, which is to support research and training related to diabetes and its complications, and to translate new discoveries into better care for people with diabetes.”

Einstein’s DRTC was among the first group of diabetes centers established by the NIH in the 1970s. Today, it is the only comprehensive center in New York and one of only seven DRTCs nationwide.

The DRTC is part of a larger diabetes program at Einstein, the Diabetes Research Center (DRC), which supports basic, clinical, behavioral and translational research. The DRC also includes the Global Diabetes Initiative, which conducts research and education to combat the world’s burgeoning diabetes epidemic.

“Einstein investigators have made major contributions to diabetes research since the DRTC’s inception over three decades ago, a tribute to Norman Fleischer, M.D., the first DRTC director,” said Allen M. Spiegel, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean. “This award enables the DRTC to continue its vital role in improving prospects for prevention and treatment of types 1 and 2 diabetes under the new leadership of Dr. Pessin.”

Dr. Spiegel added, “The opening of the Michael F. Price Center for Genetic and Translational Medicine/Harold and Muriel Block Research Pavilion has enabled Einstein to augment its strength in diabetes research with the recruitment of Dr. Pessin and several new outstanding diabetes investigators.”

The Einstein DRTC supports a variety of basic research projects. Of particular note are studies involving the central nervous system’s crucial role in diabetes – a field pioneered by Einstein researchers about a decade ago. It’s now known that the brain helps in controlling energy expenditure, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity.

Einstein researchers are also recognized for studies of the epigenetics of diabetes and obesity focusing on how environmental factors, such as chemical exposures, influence gene expression and lead to disease. In addition, the DRTC at Einstein has a strong research effort into diabetic complications, with a particular focus on kidney disease.

“With this new funding, we will be able to continue our important work, which is to support research and training related to diabetes and its complications, and to translate new discoveries into better care for people with diabetes.”

-- Jeffrey Pessin, Ph.D.
“The ultimate goal of these studies is to develop new therapies for the prevention or treatment of diabetes,” said Dr. Pessin. “For example, we recently mapped a signaling pathway that controls energy expenditure in mice. By blocking this pathway, we can increase energy expenditure and cause weight loss in these animals. We’re now trying to develop drugs that can interfere with this pathway in humans. If we’re successful, we’ll take our findings to clinical trials.”

To support its various research efforts, Einstein’s DRTC has established several research cores, which give individual investigators access to technologies, equipment, and expertise that they could not assemble on their own. There are now six research cores: animal physiology, hormone assay, analytical imaging, flow cytometry, epigenomics, and stable isotope & metabolomics. The metabolomics core provides novel approaches to analyze metabolism in individual cells, tissues, or whole organisms, including humans.

Einstein’s DRTC is also noteworthy for its prevention and control component, through which interventions are developed to promote healthy lifestyle changes in adults and children as well as adherence to therapies for preventing or treating diabetes. In addition, members of this component conduct research aimed at reducing health disparities, working closely with the local community and other underserved minority populations. The Bronx is the poorest urban county in the U.S. and has a high prevalence of diabetes and obesity.

The Einstein DRTC includes 88 researchers and has partnerships with the Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center (DERC) at Columbia University and diabetes research laboratories at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College. There are 10 NIH-supported DERCs nationwide.

About Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes. In type 1, which affects about 1 in 10 people with diabetes, the body fails to produce insulin, a hormone needed for converting sugar, starches, and other foods into energy for daily life. Type 1 diabetes usually strikes in childhood. The more common form of the disease is type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes. It is a condition in which the body produces too little insulin or contains cells that do not make proper use of insulin. When sugars build up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness, and other serious complications.

Diabetes affects approximately 23.6 million people in the U.S., accounting for $174 billion in healthcare expenditures annually, according to the American Diabetes Association (2007 figures). Another 57 million have what is called prediabetes and are likely to develop diabetes.

It is estimated by the World Health Organization that there are 220 million people with diabetes worldwide. Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common around the world, in part because of the rise in obesity, a major risk factor for the disease.

*Pictured: Seated (l to r): Gary Schwartz, Ph.D.; Meredith Hawkins, M.D.; Elizabeth Walker, Ph.D.; and Aneleen Dizon (administrator). Standing (l to r): Nir Barzilai, M.D.; Jeffrey Pessin, Ph.D.; Norman Fleischer, M.D.; Michael Brownlee, M.D.; and Streamson Chua, M.D., Ph.D.