Two School of Medicine scientists have received high honors for their contributions to diabetes research and treatment. Robert S. Sherwin, M.D., the C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine and director of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, is the winner of the 2007 Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement Award from the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the association’s highest honor for diabetes researchers. Gerald I. Shulman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and of cellular and molecular physiology, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors in American science and engineering.
Sherwin’s recent work has focused on how the brain senses blood glucose levels and activates defenses against hypoglycemia. This is an important clinical issue because this critical system becomes impaired after intensive insulin treatment of diabetes, which limits our capacity to prevent the long-term complications of the disease. These studies are the outgrowth of pioneering work by Sherwin and Professor of Pediatrics William V. Tamborlane, M.D., on a portable pump that continuously delivers insulin to treat diabetes. In addition, Sherwin’s laboratory has developed a mouse model of type 1 diabetes that shares features of the human immune system; using this model, Sherwin and colleagues have identified a new target of the autoimmune response that could lead to a vaccine to prevent type 1 diabetes.
The Banting Medal is named for Sir Frederick G. Banting, M.D., a Canadian physician and scientist who shared the 1923 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine as a co-discoverer of insulin. In presenting Sherwin with the award in June at the ADA’s annual meeting in Chicago, Larry C. Deeb, M.D., the association’s president, lauded Sherwin for his research and his prominence in the diabetes field. “His direct contributions to the development of insulin pump therapy and the landmark Diabetes Control and Complications Trial have led to major improvements in the care of patients with diabetes and his leadership in this area of research should be applauded,” said Deeb.
Sherwin also helped organize and co-direct the seminal work of the Kroc Collaborative Study Group, which showed that long-term studies of the role of glucose in diabetes complications are possible.
Sherwin has served as president of the ADA, Chairman of the Medical Science Advisory Board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and as a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee. He has published over 300 articles in peer-reviewed journals. For his work as a clinical scientist, Sherwin received the Novartis Award for Long-Standing Achievement in Diabetes. He is the recipient of two MERIT Awards from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Shulman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is a preeminent diabetes researcher who uses magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to study insulin resistance and the metabolic roles of the liver and muscle in type 2 diabetes.
MRS is a noninvasive procedure based on the same principles as magnetic resonance imaging that allows researchers to make precise, repeated chemical profiles of regions of tissue as small as three cubic centimeters. By comparing profiles made during a brief time span, it is possible to calculate the rate of metabolism in that region of tissue.
Recent results published by Shulman’s lab show that altered metabolism in mitochondria—the “power plants” of cells—in muscle may be responsible for insulin resistance. This work may one day lead to the identification of genes that make individuals more prone to diabetes, as well as treatments for insulin resistance.
Shulman also investigates the benefits of exercise in managing diabetes, using MRS and other noninvasive techniques to measure fat metabolism and fatigue during aerobic exercise.
Shulman has received numerous awards for his research, including an Outstanding Investigator Award from the American Federation for Clinical Research, the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award and a Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award from the ADA. Shulman was elected to the NAS’s Institute of Medicine in December 2005.