When Domenico Accili, MD, presents the 46th Claude Bernard Lecture in Vienna, Austria, next month, he will review key advances in understanding the causes of diabetes, including the contributions from his laboratory, starting in the 1980s, to knowledge of how insulin works. His lecture will take place on Sept. 16 during the 50th annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
“The basic pathway of insulin action is now well understood, but the field suffers from a limited ability to translate those discoveries into new treatments,” says Dr. Accili, the Russell Berrie Foundation Professor of Diabetes and director of the Columbia University Diabetes Research Center. He recommends that more efforts be directed toward developing technologies to produce drugs that regulate unconventional targets.
“Until the 1980s, research focused on unraveling the way in which insulin promotes the utilization of sugar in the body, especially in muscle,” says Dr. Accili. “A seamless revolution in research was made possible by the application of molecular genetic techniques, first as a diagnostic test in humans, then as a tool to probe the function of cells and proteins in the test tube, and more recently to interrogate complex metabolic pathways in living experimental organisms or through human stem and stem-like cells.”
In his lecture, Dr. Accili will describe recent discoveries indicating that insulin-producing beta cells, long thought to be lost to cell death during diabetes progression, actually lie dormant in the pancreas. There they regress toward an uncommitted cellular state, from which they could potentially be rescued to again become functional insulin-secreting cells. “This research also led to the serendipitous discovery of a mechanism by which certain endocrine cells in the gastrointestinal tract can be converted into functional insulin-producing cells, an approach that offers significant promise toward a cure for type 1 diabetes, as well as an adjuvant treatment for type 2 diabetes.”
After Dr. Accili’s lecture, the president of the association will present him with the Claude Bernard Award. The award, one of the top international awards in diabetes, recognizes contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the field of diabetes and related metabolic diseases.
Dr. Accili joined the Columbia faculty in 1999. His research focuses on the pathogenesis of diabetes, the integrated physiology of insulin action, and mechanisms of pancreatic beta cell dysfunction.
The Claude Bernard Award is the latest of many awards Dr. Accili has received, including the 2003 Lilly Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement from the American Diabetes Association. He is an elected member of the Association of American Physicians and of the American Society for Clinical Investigation.