July 5, 2006 – (Bronx, NY) – Dr. Michael Brownlee, the Anita and Jack Saltz Professor of Diabetes Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, is the recipient of a 2006 Scholar Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). In receiving the honor, he became one of just three researchers, worldwide, selected to receive the prestigious new award, designed to support individual scientists of exceptional creativity who pursue pioneering research to reach the JDRF's goal of finding a cure for type 1 diabetes or its complications.
The Scholar Award recognizes recipients for their groundbreaking ideas and research directions, willingness to take risks, and commitment to accelerating type 1 diabetes research. In addition, Scholar Award recipients will receive $250,000 annually for up to five years for their research efforts.
Dr. Brownlee, who also is director of the JDRF International Center for Diabetic Complications Research at Einstein, received the award for his program "Solving Hyperglycemic Memory: A Critical Obstacle to Curing Type 1 Diabetes." Since the beginning of his career, Dr. Brownlee has been devoted to understanding the biochemical basis of diabetic complications. With this new funding, Dr. Brownlee will study why some patterns of increased blood glucose levels actually increase resistance to future hyperglycemic damage, and why other patterns of increased blood glucose levels have the opposite effect of increasing sensitivity to future hyperglycemic damage. Dr. Brownlee hopes that his work will lead to strategies to reduce susceptibility to diabetic complications in all people with diabetes.
Dr. Brownlee's propensity for creative, innovative exploration has already led to considerable contributions to the field of knowledge in understanding type 1 diabetes and its complications. In a paper published earlier this year – a cover article of the journal Cell – he described his discovery of a novel molecular pathway linking high blood-sugar levels to diabetic retinopathy, a serious condition that can lead to blindness in individuals with type 1 diabetes.
Through his studies, Dr. Brownlee also has established that the four seemingly independent biochemical pathways found to contribute to hyperglycemia-induced damage in type 1 diabetes – polyol pathway activation, advanced glycation endproduct (AGE) formation, protein kinase C (PKC), and hexosamine pathway activation – all arise from a single hyperglycemia-induced process that is initiated by overproduction of toxic "free radicals" produced by the cells' mitochondria. And, he has demonstrated that normalizing free-radical levels inhibits the pathways through which cell damage occurs.
Dr. Brownlee's current studies include clinical trials of benfotiamine, a synthetic derivative of the dietary supplement thiamine (vitamin B1) that has been prescribed in Germany for more than a decade and is generally regarded as safe. His initial research of benfotiamine found that it blocked all major pathways of hyperglycemic damage, and that it blocked formation of structural lesions in the retinas of long-term diabetic animals.
The 2006 JDRF Scholar Award is the latest in a long string of distinguished honors that Dr. Brownlee has received in recognition of his scientific efforts and achievements. These include the 2005 Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research from Columbia University Medical Center; the 2004 Banting Medal, the highest scientific award of the American Diabetes Association; the 2004 Davis Award from the Children's Diabetes Foundation; the 2003 Claude Bernard Medal, the highest scientific honor given by the European Association for the Study of Diabetes; and the 1993 Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award, presented by the American Diabetes Association.
Other recipients of 2006 JDRF Scholar Awards were Drs. Matthias Hebrok and Derek van der Kooy, of the University of California San Francisco and University of Toronto, respectively.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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