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The 2011 Vanderbilt Scholars in Diabetes are, from left, Ashley Shoemaker, M.D., Jennifer Plank, Leah Potter, Ph.D., and Li Kang, Ph.D. Libby Survant, M.T., right, received the Robert K. Hall Award. (photo by Tommy Lawson)

Diabetes research trainees honored at Diabetes Day

BY: MELISSA MARINO

11/17/2011 - At the recent “Diabetes Day” research symposium, four Vanderbilt trainees were named Vanderbilt Scholars in Diabetes in recognition of their potential as future leaders in diabetes research.

Ashley Shoemaker, M.D., a clinical fellow working with Roger Cone, Ph.D., in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, received the award in the clinical fellow postdoctoral category. Her research focuses on early-onset obesity, particularly diseases that cause abnormal hypothalamic regulation of energy balance. Better understanding of the abnormalities in food intake and energy expenditure could help doctors develop new strategies for treating or preventing obesity in these patients.

Li Kang, Ph.D., a research fellow working with David Wasserman, Ph.D., in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, received the award in the postdoctoral category. Her work has shown that increased deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM) components contributes to insulin resistance in muscle and that treating mice with pharmacological agents that degrade ECM components reverses high-fat diet-induced muscle insulin resistance. Her research will provide new opportunities to explore therapeutics for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Leah Potter, Ph.D., who recently completed her doctorate in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, received the award in the graduate student category. Her research, conducted under the supervision of Mark Magnuson M.D., has been focused on using fluorescence-activated cell sorting and RNA-sequencing methods to elucidate the transcriptional profiles of pancreatic progenitor cells. The knowledge gained from her studies may point to strategies for making fully functional beta cells from human embryonic stem cells.

Jennifer Plank, a current student in Cell and Developmental Biology, received the award in the graduate student category. Working with Patricia Labosky, Ph.D., Jennifer studies regulators of pancreatic beta cell mass expansion. She has identified important roles for the neural crest and for the transcription factor Foxd3 in the beta cell. The findings from both of her projects can be applied to the generation of beta cells to treat patients with diabetes.

In addition, the 2011 Robert K. Hall Service Award was awarded to Libby Survant, M.T., a Senior Clinical Trials Specialist in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Part of a growing team of researchers dedicated to finding a cure for diabetes, Libby has worked on research and in clinical trials at Vanderbilt for the past 20 years, with responsibilities ranging from delivery of supplies, arranging patient travel, and remote location study visits to childcare for subjects with small children.

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