Jean Schaffer, MD delivers Catherine Tuck Memorial Lecture

Catherine Tuck, MD was only 39 when she passed away in 2001. An extraordinary physician, clinical investigator, educator and friend, Dr. Tuck was one of the founders of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center in 1997. In her memory, the Berrie Center established an annual medical lectureship—which this year was given by cardiologist Jean Schaffer who is head of the Diabetes Research Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. 

Dr. Schaffer’s lab focuses on understanding the molecular basis of diabetes complications including heart disease. Specifically, her research focuses on lipotoxicity, which occurs when fatty acid accumulation damages cells and tissues. While fatty acids are critical for many cellular functions, accumulation of excess fatty acids in non-adipose tissues leads to cell dysfunction and cell death. This lipotoxicity plays an important role in the pathogenesis of heart failure and other complications of diabetes. The goals of Dr. Schaffer’s work is to characterize the fundamental cellular mechanisms of metabolic stress from substrate excess, and to understand how this process contributes to diabetes complications. 

Through studies in cultured cells and in mice Dr. Shaffer’s lab learned that small molecules called snoRNAs (small nucleolar RNAs) have important roles in the response to metabolic and oxidative stress. Her lecture, Metabolic Reprogramming through Small Nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), summarized her laboratory’s important work in this area. 

“Dr. Schaffer’s commitment to improving the lives of people with metabolic diseases embodies the dedication and the spirt of Catherine Tuck,” said Robin Goland, MD, Co-Director, Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center and J. Merrill Eastman Professor of Clinical Diabetes at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Dr. Tuck was a wonderful teacher and leader. Dr. Schaffer is incredibly deserving of this honor.”

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