Graeme Bell, PhD, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics and head of the University’s NIH- supported Diabetes Research and Training Center recently was awarded the Manpei Suzuki International Prize for 2012 for his pioneering work in understanding the role of genetics in the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes. The prize, the world’s largest award for diabetes research, includes a certificate of honor, a Japanese objet d’art and support to further his research and professional work. Inaugurated in 2008 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Manpei Suzuki Diabetes Foundation, the prize honors “those who have enlightened researchers in the field of diabetes around the world with their original and excellent scientific achievements.”
Bell was recognized, according to the selection committee, for his “extensive and groundbreaking contributions over many years to many landmark discoveries in diabetes research utilizing the powerful technologies of molecular biology and genetics.” He received the prize and presented a commemorative lecture at the award ceremony in Tokyo on Feb. 5, 2013.
Bell is the second scientist from the University of Chicago to win this prestigious award in the five years it has been given. His colleague Donald F. Steiner, MD, the A.N. Pritzker Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, received the award for 2009. “This is a wonderful honor and a very pleasant surprise,” Bell said. “I am proud to find myself among such distinguished company and pleased that work from our laboratory and our many collaborators has had an impact on the field and been recognized in this way.”
Bell studies the genetics of diabetes mellitus and the biology of the insulin-secreting pancreatic beta-cell. He cloned and characterized many of the genes that are key in the regulation of glucose metabolism including insulin, glucagon, glucose transporters and many others. Bell discovered mutations in the genes for glucokinase and for three transcription factors that cause an early-onset form of diabetes called maturity-onset diabetes of the young. Once thought to be very rare, this form of diabetes represents up to 5 percent of cases. Correct genetic diagnosis can alter treatment and improve clinical outcome.
Bell is a key member of the University of Chicago Medicine’s diabetes genetics team, whose work involves using genetics to personalize treatment targeted to a patient’s specific genetic defect. Babies with diabetes provide the most dramatic example of this approach. Nearly half have diabetes due to mutations in genes. Some of these children can be treated with pills that compensate for the genetic defect, rather than with insulin shots. More than 1,500 patients and family members are now participating in genetic studies aimed at improving treatment through a better understanding of genetics. Many important studies on the patients with MODY mutations were done in collaboration with Dean Kenneth Polonsky. We are thrilled that several members of the Kovler team will be sharing their exciting research with this international audience! Dr. Bell continues to collaborate closely with Dr. Philipson, Greeley and Naylor on monogenic diabetes. For more information about advances in monogenic diabetes care and research, please visit our website at www.monogenicdiabetes.org