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This year’s Vanderbilt Scholars in Diabetes are, from left, Kimberly Coenen, Ph.D., John Stafford, M.D., Ph.D., and Robert Lee-Young, Ph.D. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Awards recognize potential of trio’s diabetes research

BY: MELISSA MARINO

5/30/2008 - Three talented trainees who demonstrate potential as future leaders in diabetes research were honored at last week's “Diabetes Day” research symposium.

The third annual Vanderbilt Scholars in Diabetes awards, which include a certificate and monetary award, were presented at the symposium by Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine.

Kimberly Coenen, Ph.D, who recently completed her doctorate in the department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, received the award in the graduate student category.

Working with Alyssa Hasty, Ph.D., Coenen is investigating the factors that influence the accumulation of immune cells known as macrophages in adipose (fat) tissue, a phenomenon that occurs in the obese state. She is focusing on how hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of fats in the blood) and the macrophage Toll-like receptor 4, a receptor that responds to fatty acids, influence macrophage infiltration into adipose tissue.

The award in the M.D. postdoctoral category was presented to John Stafford, M.D., Ph.D., a clinical and research fellow working with Kevin Niswender, M.D., Ph.D., in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism. Because triglycerides — the main form of dietary fat that circulates in the blood — contribute to increased risk of cardiovascular disease in obesity and diabetes, Stafford is studying how control points in triglyceride metabolism are altered in these conditions.

Robert Lee-Young, Ph.D., a research fellow working with David Wasserman, Ph.D., in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, received the award in the Ph.D. postdoctoral category for his work on the identification of enzymes that regulate glucose metabolism in skeletal muscle during exercise and in models of type 2 diabetes.

In people with type 2 diabetes, skeletal muscle glucose metabolism is impaired in response to insulin but normal in response to exercise, so identifying the enzymes involved may aid in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

The awards were established by the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC), whose mission includes training the next generation of diabetes researchers.

The Vanderbilt DRTC is an interdisciplinary, interdepartmental center that supports investigators performing basic science research, clinical investigation, and translational research, and includes more than 90 investigators in 18 departments and four colleges at Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical School.

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