Forging new partnerships

An interview with Allen Spiegel, M.D.

Bill Snyder
Published: July, 2003

Photo by Judy G. Rolfe
Allen Spiegel, M.D., is an internationally recognized endocrinologist whose research has helped define the genetic basis of several endocrine diseases. A former director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Spiegel currently is dean of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

In 2003, he shared his thoughts about the importance of investing in basic research and the need for greater collaboration – among universities, the government, private industry and the general public – to address the challenges of diabetes.

Lens: What are some of the major priorities of the Institute?

Spiegel: Because of its enormous public health significance, diabetes is clearly one of our major priorities. For example, we’re investing substantial resources in the Beta Cell Biology Consortium (BCBC), because insulin-secreting beta cells are at the heart of both types 1 and 2 diabetes. The BCBC is a recently formed group that typifies a newer approach to biology and medical research. We still rely on the creativity of individual investigators, but to tackle some of the large issues, it’s really vital to bring together a number of investigators. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

The goal of the consortium, coupled with other efforts, is nothing less than to understand everything there is to know about the beta cell, every gene that is expressed. It is possible to do this now, at every stage of development; to identify stem cells in the pancreas; to work with embryonic stem cells, according to the President’s guidelines; to determine what is necessary to create a sufficient quantity of beta cells and islets needed to replace beta cell function in animal models of diabetes and eventually in patients.

Within the funding levels provided, the NIDDK will continue to support a scientifically robust research portfolio that addresses all the diseases within its mission. This portfolio includes fundamental laboratory research; “discovery” research that brings new insights from the laboratory into clinical testing; clinical research of promising treatment and prevention strategies; and the translation of important results from clinical trials, not only in the scientific literature, but also through public outreach, information and education efforts.

Lens: What will be needed to achieve success? What are the barriers?

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