Scherer earns national diabetes research award

By Debbie Bolles

Dr. Philipp Scherer, Director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has received the 15th Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Research in Diabetes related to his work examining the role of fat in diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

Dr. Philipp Scherer
Dr. Philipp Scherer

The award is given annually by Columbia University Medical Center’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center for excellence in diabetes research.

“Dr. Scherer’s comprehensive analysis of fat tissue physiology has helped to elucidate the molecular basis for the relationship of obesity to insulin resistance, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. It helped to launch studies of the role of fat in inflammation and cancer,” said Dr. Rudolph Leibel, Co-Director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center and chair of the award selection committee.

Dr. Scherer’s research on the physiology of the adipocyte, cells that store energy as fat, has been reported in more than 280 publications, some of which have been cited more than 1,000 times. Of note, Dr. Scherer’s discovery of adiponectin, a hormone produced by fat, helped transform the scientific concept of fat as an inert storage depot to that of an endocrine “organ” that exerts control over multiple organs. His studies have revealed adiponectin’s potent anti-diabetes effects of blocking glucose production in the liver and improving insulin sensitivity in muscle. Because adiponectin levels fall as fat levels rise, drugs that increase adiponectin may be effective in fighting diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.

More recently, Dr. Scherer’s research helped establish that obesity itself is not the direct cause of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Instead, obesity is initially protective by directing excess lipid away from critical tissues such as muscle and liver. In mouse models, Dr. Scherer has found that “healthy fat” tissue can maintain metabolic health.

“I am very grateful that our colleagues at Columbia honor my group with this prestigious award,” Dr. Scherer said. “The Berrie Diabetes Center is on the leading edge of diabetes research in the nation, and I particularly appreciate being recognized by this outstanding group of investigators.”

As part of the award, Dr. Scherer received $130,000 to support a two-year fellowship in his laboratory. He selected Dr. Risheng “Jeff” Ye, Postdoctoral Researcher II, who will investigate the role of adipocyte-derived factors in the regeneration of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells that are frequently lost in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The Berrie Award is the latest of many research honors for Dr. Scherer, who has directed the Touchstone Center since 2007. In 2012, he was recognized as a rising star in research by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas with an Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award, and in 2005, the American Diabetes Association honored him with an Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award.

Dr. Scherer holds the Gifford O. Touchstone Jr. and Randolph G. Touchstone Distinguished Chair in Diabetes Research.

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