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Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog

Archive for June, 2010

Rizza Tapped for Banting Medal

Posted on June 23rd, 2010 by Admin

The Banting Medal is the top scientific achievement award from the American Diabetes Association. This year it will go to Mayo's Executive Dean for Research Robert Rizza, M.D.

"My first job after starting medical school was at a diabetes summer camp," explains Dr. Rizza. "More than a hundred kids with Type I diabetes. Type I was a lot more serious then. There were fewer options for those kids. I thought, why can't we fix this?"

Thirty years later Bob Rizza is still focused on fixing things diabetic. A former chair of endocrinology at Mayo and former president of the ADA, he now oversees Mayo's entire "research shield." Still, he remains active, publishing annually and providing leadership to new initiatives like Mayo's Center for Translational Science Activities and the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics. He is also the Earl and Annette McDonough Professor of Medicine at Mayo.

The Banting Medal honors an individual who has made significant, long term contributions to understanding diabetes, its treatment and/or prevention. The award is named after Nobel Prize winner Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin treatment for diabetes. The ADA cited key elements of Dr. Rizza's research accomplishments in its statement. With permission, I copy that portion of their announcement below:

Early in his career, in a series of elegant clinical studies, Dr. Rizza elucidated the mechanisms underlying the counterregulatory responses to insulin-induced hypoglycemia. An appreciation that these counterregulatory responses are disturbed in diabetes has led to changes in clinical practice to deliver better care to patients with diabetes.

With their development of validated, sophisticated methods to measure glucose turnover in vivo in humans, the Rizza group was able to quantify for the first time the relative contributions of impaired suppression of hepatic glucose release, impaired hepatic glucose uptake, and impaired glucose uptake by extra-hepatic tissues in humans with diabetes in the fasting and fed state. Thus, the most fundamental questions about the mechanisms of hyperglycemia in diabetes were finally addressed. Later, using innovative approaches in vivo, Dr. Rizza demonstrated that functional hepatic glucokinase defect is basic to impaired hepatic glucose uptake in type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Rizza will receive the medal at the ADA conference next week in Orlando.

From Cells, to Mice to People – All Age

Posted on June 18th, 2010 by Admin

The range of expertise at the Mayo/Kogod Aging Conference has been diverse. We've heard about cell senesence today. The term senescene is often used as a synonym for aging...a lack of activity or growth. In cell biology it means the loss of the ability to proliferate. It's one result of cell damage, but not the only one. Cells can, in many cases repair themselves, or on the other hand, can undergo apoptosis or cell death.  Senescence is also a result of the body protecting itself against potential cancer. If a cell can't proliferate, a tumor can't develop. Some senescent cells also excrete proteins as part of the damage recovery process, which in turn cause inflammation. Inflammation is known to drive age-related diseases. Senescent cells accumulate as we age. Can we eliminate or interfere with them and thus delay aging? Researchers are working on it.

Others are working with mice and how they can increase muscle mass. Why? Because they're good models to a point and researchers want to find ways to improve muscle health in aging humans. If people are stronger - either through a exercise, additives, supplements or other factors - they are less likely to slip, fall, injure themselves, especially at a time when injuries can be far more complicated and lead to health declines. Some also call this frailty. Researchers are looking at aspects of frailty at the molecular level. It's odd to think that alterations in something at the molecular level can lead to a person's body-wide physiological decline, but investigators realize that the beginnings of what we call aging begin at the micro level.

One rather refreshing thing about this conference - perhaps  because the researchers are sharing with colleagues in a non-public venue - is how frequently we're hearing "We don't know yet" and "We're not sure about that" and "We  have no idea."  Geriatrics is not a new field, but clearly it's not been subject to the focus or funding of the major disease areas. There is plenty of uncharted ground, exciting questions to be pursued. Our safe prediction is that as the Boomers become even older, the interest level and demand for answers will only grow.

The Excitement of Aging

Posted on June 18th, 2010 by Admin

“I’m not the man I was!” cried Scrooge, upon waking upon Christmas day.

He was more right than he knew. According to experts on aging, you are, in essence, working with a different body. The genetics remain, but the aging body functions differently in almost every aspect. The combination of those functions can, if not dealt with in a new way, impact aging negatively. The genetic-environment debate continues, depending on one’s scientific background, as to which contributes more to aging. The message I’m hearing this morning is that it all applies. What you do all along the pathway can impact the outcome. Still, as Dr. Nir Barzilai from Albert Einstein College of Medicine explains, genetics can make a dramatic difference. He is trying to find the mechanisms of aging from a genetic basis, trying to find why certain people survive to the upper range of the scale, 80s to 112, while others don’t reach their 80s. What goes into maintaining “a healthy homeostasis?” Why did Aunt Sophie live to 102 and her brother outlive her at 104?

Dr. Barzilai was the kickoff speaker this morning at The Next Step in Aging Research: From Bench to Bedside, sponsored by Mayo’s Kogod Center on Aging. He talks of identifying SNP –single nucleotide polymorphisms – and trying to figure out what they many mean in the aging context. Others on the agenda will talk about what happens within the cell to cause senescence and still others will share what trends and insights they are observing in the clinic.  There will be no conclusive answers coming out of this gathering, but the key is that people are sharing their findings as well as notes, ideas, conversation…with one goal: to understand the aspects of aging, aside from a specific disease. More later from Red Wing, Minnesota.

Mayo Researchers Test Climbers on Himalaya Expedition

Posted on June 15th, 2010 by Admin

Mike Horn Himalaya Expedition

The Mayo research team that featured in so many posts on this blog earlier in the year is at it again. This time Dr. Bruce Johnson's lab has teamed up with world famous mountain climber and adventurer Mike Horn. One of Horn's many projects is a climbing school for young people from around the world. On this expedition are 20 people including 8 young adults from the Young Explorer's Program. They are tackling a "virgin" mountain -  one not yet named. Along on the climb is the Johnson physiology team, taking altitude reaction readings and other metrics as the group makes its way upward. The Mayo group is featured in this latest video direct from the mountain in Pakistan. Speaking from the Mayo team are Andrew Miller and the fellow with the Scots accent is Dr. Bryan Taylor.

To see the video Himalaya Expedition- Mayo Clinic Test go here.

The Mayo team is supported back at the lab by Dr. Johnson, Kathy O'Malley, and Alex Kasak.  The Mayo effort is made possible by an educational and research grant from the Gonda Family .

International Conference on Aging Research

Posted on June 11th, 2010 by Admin

Despite the graying of the Boomers, one medical specialty you don’t hear much about is geriatrics. In fact, there are only about 7,500 geriatricians in the U.S. – 9,000, if you include geriatric psychiatrists.  It’s considered a minor specialty when you figure there are over 815,000 practicing physicians in the country. So why aren’t we tripping over geriatricians like we are pediatricians? Because the specialists who see the elderly focus on the diseases associated with aging, not with aging itself. Cardiology, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, orthopedics, and the list continues.

Mayo’s Kogod Center on Aging turns that concept on its head. The more than 100 researchers in the Center focus on “successful aging” or the idea that growing old does not need to mean contracting illness or disease. As Center director James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., put it to me the other day, “Aging is the number one risk factor for disease.” Notice the subtle difference there – there’s an increased risk for illness, but that’s all. It’s correlative, not necessarily causative. Starting at the cellular level, they want to find what causes degeneration and slow or stop it.

Next weekend, (June 17th-20th) the Kogod Center is sponsoring its first annual international aging conference, bringing together clinicians who see elderly patients and basic researchers who are discovering why people become frail as they age. I use the word frail in a general sense, to cover a multitude of situations. Experts from the UK, The Netherlands and all over the U.S. are converging as presenters and participants in the three-day event. It’s closed to the media because scientists will be discussing findings yet to be published, however I will be blogging from the conference to offer a flavor of what’s happening and some reflections on where the science is headed. The significant thing is that it is happening. These groups -- which don’t usually communicate much, according to Dr. Kirkland -- will be interacting, comparing notes. And that, as Rick said, could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Is science on the verge of being able to stop or slow the aging process? More on that next time.

Removing Iron May Hinder Cancer

Posted on June 2nd, 2010 by Admin

That's the finding from a Mayo study in the July issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the online version is out now.  For more details and video comments from the researcher, check out Mayo's newsblog.