The 2019 Naomi Berrie Diabetes Research Panel showcased a selection of talented young investigators at the Berrie Center. This year the Research Panel had a slightly different feel from previous years as it included a behind-the-scenes look at the Berrie Center labs and a chance to engage one-on-one with the scientists. The high level of collaboration and curiosity among the panelists was made evident throughout the evening.
“Tonight, we are excited to showcase the talent inside our labs at the Berrie Center – the undergraduates, medical students, doctoral students, and post-doctoral fellows who work alongside our senior investigators,” said Berrie Center Co-Director and panel moderator Rudolph Leibel, MD, the Christopher J. Murphy Memorial Professor of Diabetes Research. “They are the emerging leaders in the field of diabetes research and are indispensable to our current research enterprise as they do the day-to-day (and late-at-night) laboratory research.”
Co-Director and panel moderator Robin Goland, MD, the J. Merrill Eastman Professor of Clinical Diabetes talked about the close collaboration between the clinical and research programs, an attribute that makes the Berrie Center so unique.
“The panel will raise your awareness regarding the very special nature and contributions of our trainees,” said Dr. Goland. “This is the future right here. This is the horsepower that drives the research program at the Berrie Center from behind the scenes.”
The panelists were Tiara R. Ahmad, a 6th Year Doctoral Student in the Rebecca Haeusler, PhD, Laboratory; Danielle Baum, MS, MPhil, a 3rd Year Doctoral Student in the Dieter Egli, PhD, Laboratory; Stephen Flaherty, MS, MPhil, a 5th Year Doctoral Student in the Anthony Ferrante, Jr., MD, PhD, Laboratory; Marie L. Francois, PhD, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Lori Zeltser, PhD, Laboratory; Diana Taiyi Kuo, PhD, an Associate Research Scientist in the Domenico Accili, MD, Laboratory, and Jerica Tan, an undergraduate student studying biology at Barnard College, Columbia University, in the Claudia Doege, MD, Laboratory.
The panel consisted of six out of approximately 75 trainee-investigators who work in the research laboratories affiliated with the Berrie Center. Each panelist spoke about their educational background, how they got to the Berrie Center and their current projects that are related broadly to the pathophysiology and pathobiology of diabetes. Their mentors, sitting front and center in the audience, had the opportunity to comment as well.
“They learn from us, but we generally learn more from them,” said Dr. Leibel.
Rebecca Hauesler, PhD talked about the pace of research and the diligence of her mentee Tiara Ahmad. Tiara’s research is the perfect embodiment of the pace of research and what sometimes happens, Haeusler, PhD said. “We had a problem that we wanted to solve which is to understand more about the gastrointestinal tract and how it is regulated by some of the molecules that are altered in diabetes. And so Tiara beat her head against the bench for about four years trying to get a system that would work in order to answer her question. It suddenly worked. For the last 18 months, she has been working constantly. And now we have this avalanche of information.”
From Anthony Ferrante, Jr., MD, PhD the members of the Berrie Center community in the audience received a sense of hope and optimism.
“We don’t know under which rock we will find the cure,” said Dr. Ferrante. “But what is going to be necessary and what is necessary is the excitement that these folks bring every day to the lab because of the possibilities about what they might do to help their families and their friends.”
Before heading upstairs to look in microscopes, examine slides and explore the Berrie Center labs, one member of the audience asked the panelists the million-dollar question – “what is the timeline for a cure?”
“The honest answer to that is we don’t know,” said Dr. Leibel. “But that the type of work that you heard about and that is being conducted by other investigators here, as well as around the world, I am absolutely convinced, will ultimately lead to prevention and cure of this disease, possibly by transplantation of islets; possibly by reversing the decline of the function of the beta cells of the islet cells that remain; perhaps by doing something to drive the gastrointestinal track to make insulin. There are a variety of strategies that are now being moved in parallel. I can imagine that one of them, or several of those, will ultimately defeat this disease.”
Please see the photo gallery for a look at this inspiring event.