A Berrie Center Scientist is Awarded Precision Medicine Fellowship

Congratulations to Anthony Romer, PhD, this year’s recipient of Columbia’s Precision Medicine Fellowship. Dr. Romer will complete his 2-year Post Doctoral fellowship—which aims to create the next generation of leaders in the development and application of Precision Medicine—in the laboratory of Dieter Egli, PhD, Maimonides Assistant Professor of Cell Biology at Columbia University Medical Center. Broadly defined, Precision Medicine is an approach to medicine that tailors therapies on a patient-by-patient basis.

Dr. Romer is studying the genetics of type 2 diabetes (T2D). His work is the result of a collaboration between Columbia and Regeneron, a pharmaceutical company that has sequenced (for this project) the genomes of patients with T2D and their families—and then used that information to identify what turned out to be scores of variants or mutations that were unique to those families.

Said Dr. Romer, “That they sequenced entire families that had a history of diabetes strongly suggests that these genetic variants play an important role in the pathogenesis of this disease.” Dr. Romer’s role in the project “is to see if any of these mutations that are linked with diabetes in these families affect the development or the function of insulin-producing beta cells.”

To do this, Dr. Romer is creating lines of human embryonic stem cells with patient-specific mutations. He then differentiates these stem cells (in a petri dish) into insulin producing cells that have most of the hallmark features of pancreatic beta cells that are found in the body. Then he studies these newly created beta cells in culture and in mouse models. Said Dr. Romer, “Once you identify those mutations that contribute to defects in beta cell development and beta cell functions, you can start designing or screening for drugs that repair or rescue the effects of that mutation.”

Dr. Romer, 37, received his PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Mount Sinai School of Biological Sciences and has been doing research on the beta cell at Columbia for the last two years. Raised in Lake Forest, Illinois, his interest in scientific research started as an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He then became passionate about developmental biology and pathophysiology when he worked as a research technician at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute researching transcription factors that control the development and tumors in the intestine.

So far, his research has resulted in several award winning posters, presentations and first author publication in leading scientific journals. In addition to scientific research, Dr. Romer has enjoyed teaching several courses in the field of biomedical sciences and was awarded the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Teaching Award.

Added Dr. Dieter Egli:  “Dr. Romer is a leader in identifying and testing gene variants causing diabetes and beta cell dysfunction. His pioneering work on stem cell derived beta cells will lead us to a more personalized understanding and treatment for diabetes.”