A prominent figure in diabetes research is leaving the National Institutes of Health to lead patient care and research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and its hospital partner.
Dr. David Harlan, who heads the diabetes branch at the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Md., will become division chief of diabetes at the medical school and director of the diabetes center at UMass Memorial Medical Center, both in Worcester. He will also be associate director of the school's diabetes and endocrinology research center. The appointments are effective next month. He succeeds Dr. Aldo Rossini, who retired last year.
At UMass, Harlan, 53, hopes to refashion the way care is delivered to people who have diabetes.
"It's an easy diagnosis to make, but the management of [diabetes] is very difficult." he said in an interview. "Many patients, I think, feel more or less on their own, and that the system doesn't work very well for them. So one motivation to come to UMass is the opportunity to look top to bottom at how diabetes care delivery is done and to try to come up with better ways to help patients with this disease. NIH is a fabulous place, but it doesn't have a real hospital -- all patients seen here have to be enrolled in some kind of research protocol."
While at NIH, Harlan was both a clinician and a researcher. His research has focused on type 1 diabetes, in which the body destroys insulin-making islet cells in the pancreas. He has studied a mechanism called tolerance that would allow the survival of transplanted islet cells, which would produce the insulin that type 1 diabetics now must inject daily. In 2001 Harlan and his NIH colleagues brought to the United States an experimental technique developed in Canada called the Edmonton protocol, in which islet cells from cadavers were infused into type 1 diabetics, but the recipients needed to take anti-rejection drugs to keep the cells from being destroyed in an immune system reaction.
On the research side, Harlan said he was attracted to UMass by the opportunity to work with a humanized mouse model of diabetes that UMass researchers developed with The Jackson Laboratory. Scientists are investigating whether induced pluripotent stem cells might be turned into insulin-producing cells.
Harlan graduated from the University of Michigan and Duke University School of Medicine. He completed his internship and internal medicine residency at Duke University Medical Center. As a US Navy medical officer at the Navy Hospital in San Diego, he studied at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine before returning to Duke to complete a fellowship in endocrinology.
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