Medical school alum named Chief of Endocrinology

By Debbie Bolles

Dr. Perry Bickel, an endocrinologist from the UT Health Science Center at Houston, has been named Chief of the Division of Endocrinology in the Department of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Perry Bickel
Dr. Perry Bickel

Dr. Bickel, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, whose research focuses on the molecular mechanisms of fat storage, has been also named Director of the Jean D. Wilson Center for Biomedical Research.

At UTHSC-Houston, he served as Director of the Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases. In 2007, the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine at that institute recruited him from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis to develop a program in metabolic diseases.

Dr. Bickel’s new position had been vacant since the death in late 2008 of Division Chief Keith Parker. Dr. Abhimanyu Garg, Professor of Internal Medicine, had served as interim Chief of Endocrinology.

Dr. David Johnson, Chairman of Internal Medicine, said Dr. Bickel’s impressive research background, clinical accomplishments, and expertise led to his selection for the post.

“We believe he brings the skills and imagination to this position that will enrich our department, the health care system, and the School of Medicine,” Dr. Johnson said.

Accepting the job is a coming home of sorts for Dr. Bickel, who was born in Houston and attended medical school at UT Southwestern, graduating in 1998. One of his goals is to expand the division and further its research capabilities, with an initial emphasis on obesity and diabetes research. He plans to collaborate closely with the Touchstone Diabetes Center, the Division of Hypothalamic Research, and the Center for Human Nutrition.

“I’m trying to understand how lipid droplet-coat proteins regulate the storage, turnover, and breakdown of fat in cells,” said Dr. Bickel, also Associate Professor of Internal Medicine. “That’s important because we have an obesity epidemic that is manifested by the excess storage of fat, not just in fat cells, but also in other tissues of the body such as muscle, liver, and even the heart. Too much fat in these other tissues is associated with diabetes, liver diseases, and heart failure.”

Practicing medicine wasn’t Dr. Bickel’s original goal. He graduated from Yale University with degrees in philosophy and classical civilization, intent on becoming either a lawyer or professor. But an undergraduate class in reproductive biology that he took at Yale hooked him, and convinced him to go to medical school. During his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, his exposure to faculty endocrinologists who were physician-scientists piqued his interest in endocrinology and metabolism research.

“What attracts a lot of people to endocrinology is the logic of the endocrine system, the feedback loops and concept of homeostasis,” Dr. Bickel said. “In practicing endocrinology at academic institutions, we see many patients who defy that logic and motivate us to go back to the lab to better understand the molecular causes of their endocrine disorders. That’s the challenge and the excitement of what we do in the Division of Endocrinology.”

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Dr. Bickel holds the J.D. and Maggie E. Wilson Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research.

Dr. Garg holds the Distinguished Chair in Human Nutrition Research.

Dr. Johnson holds the Donald W. Seldin Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine.

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