Meet the Endocrinologist: Interview with Prof David Hodson

Meet Professor David Hodson, Society for Endocrinology Starling Medal winner for 2017. Prof Hodson is based at the University of Birmingham, where his work investigates how failure of pancreatic beta cell function contributes to type-2 diabetes. He is particularly interested in using multidisciplinary and innovative approaches to answer these research questions, which has earned him this award, to be presented the annual conference, SfE BES 2017, in Harrogate, 6-8 November 2017. Learn more about his endocrine journey in this exclusive interview.

Q:  Tell us a little about your career so far and how you ended up in Birmingham

I originally trained as a Veterinary Surgeon at the University of Bristol, where I studied for a PhD in reproductive neuroendocrinology. Tempted by warmer climes, I then migrated to the South of France to join Patrice Mollard’s lab at the CNRS Montpellier, France. This was an exciting time when Patrice had just discovered pituitary networks, and I was lucky enough to be involved in some of the seminal work that followed. This period cemented my passion for microscopy and method development. I then took up a post as a Non-Clinical Lecturer at Imperial College London in Guy Rutter’s Section, applying optical approaches to the study of islet biology and generally learning how to survive in academia. I moved to the University of Birmingham 18 months ago through their Birmingham Fellows Scheme, convinced that the availability of world-class imaging/metabolomics and abundance of young talent would help me to push my research to the next level. Now a Professorial Research Fellow, I am tasked with the exciting role of expanding diabetes research, as well as further developing our imaging capability. This despite my initial reservations about the city following the BAFTA award-winning “Peaky Blinders”!

 Q: What more specifically are you presenting at your Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2017?

It is becoming increasingly clear that, rather like society, beta cells are not equal. In fact, a small number of beta cells may be responsible for driving insulin release, as well as proliferation/renewal, similar to how just a few individuals own most of the world’s wealth. Or alternatively, how you are only ever six people away from knowing Kevin Bacon (of “Tremors” or “Footloose” fame). This is a really hot topic that challenges our understanding of how beta cells may fail (or respond to treatment) during type 2 diabetes. Therefore, I’ll talk about the recent questions that have arisen in terms of beta cell diversity, the tools we have developed to try and understand this and how this has changed our viewpoint of beta cell function under normal and diabetic conditions. There will be lots of colour, movies and practically no text.

Q: What are you particularly looking forward to at SfE BES 2017?

 My first SfE BES conference was last year and I’m a convert! It will be great to see how endocrinology is progressing in the UK and to catch up with colleagues whilst discussing research in a friendly, informal and supportive environment. In particular, I am looking forward to the “Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine in Endocrinology” symposium. This holds promise not only for diabetes treatment, but also for many endocrine disorders. I’m also looking forward to the social programme. I’d be lying if I said that food and alcohol didn’t play an important role in any conference attendance!

Q: What has been your career highlight so far?

To be honest, I’m relatively new to this and the lab has been working across so many disciplines/topics that it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular highlight. I’m very appreciative that I’ve got excellent collaborators and we are just pleased to be involved in any output that falls under the ‘team science’ banner. Having said that, getting to see Wrestlemania 33 at the same time as ENDO 2017 this year in Florida has to be pretty good, right? Does this count as a career highlight?

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges in your particular research area right now?

Our biggest challenge remains how to translate our basic findings on beta cell function from the bench to the bedside. We are amassing detailed knowledge regarding the mechanisms underlying insulin secretion, especially in the ‘omics era, but need to strive to harness this for therapeutic potential. On the flip side, lack of understanding about basic mechanisms will hold back progress on all fronts, so we should not make this the only criteria for our research.

Q: What are your future plans for your work & career?

Honestly, I haven’t really thought that far ahead. I’m content following up the avenues created by current research and just having fun doing what we’re doing. Maybe become a Vice-Chancellor? The pension seems decent.

Q: Who do you most admire professionally?

I have to admit that I most admire my postdocs, students and technicians. The fact that they have chosen to research diabetes with relatively little reward and in tough academic times really speaks volumes about their motivation and personalities. They do it because they love to do it. I am lucky to have such good people.

Q: Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists out there?

Endocrinology is bound by shared mechanisms and concepts. Therefore, as a basic or clinical researcher, don’t be afraid to apply thinking from one field to another field, as well as take risks with the research. The outcome and impact can be quite dramatic compared to the high-throughput, predictable science that the funding climate seems to encourage. If someone asks you what is the point of doing this, then it’s generally a positive thing!

Q: What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

There is a realisation that current drugs are difficult to improve upon. Certainly, pharma pipelines, profits and innovation are all shrinking as the list of FDA requirements rightly grows (e.g. concerning cardiovascular safety margins). Therefore, directed or personalised treatment may represent the next breakthrough in the field, for example through production of unimolecular agonists where a few licensed drugs are ‘bolted’ together or matching patient genotype to drug efficacy.

You can hear Prof Hodson’s Society for Endocrinology Starling Medal lecture, “Next generation tools to understand endocrine function in health and disease” on Monday 6 November, 18:00-18:30, and see the full scientific programme for SfE BES 2017.

 

Early-career grants: funding to get the all-important first proof of concept

The Society for Endocrinology provides early-career grants to support its members in a number of ways. In this article, Kerry McLaughlin explains how the grant helped her search for an elusive autoantigen, which made a splash on the BBC news page earlier this year.

Dr Kerry McLaughlin PhD JDRF Research Fellow
Dr Kerry McLaughlin, JDRF Research Fellow

 People who have type-1 diabetes lose the ability to control blood sugar levels because of the destruction of insulin-producing cells in their Islets of Langerhans. We know this is because the immune response targets four specific proteins (known as autoantigens), and while the fifth major autoantigen has been known to exist for over 20 years its identity was unknown.

Technical limitations at the time made it impossible to identify the fifth autoantigen, but we used a combination of biochemical techniques alongside high-tech mass spectrometry to discover that this fifth major autoantigen was tetraspanin-7, at last providing a complete picture of the immune targets in type-1 diabetes.

This discovery can now be used to help identify those at risk of future disease development through the detection of antibodies to tetraspanin-7, and to further research into strategies aimed at blocking the immune response to the major autoantigens in order to prevent the disease altogether.

This research came about as a result of work we were doing with a separate autoantigen (IA-2). My postdoctoral supervisor, Dr Michael Christie, was involved in earlier efforts to identify the fifth major autoantigen, and we realised that we could apply the technology developed for IA-2 for this purpose.

This was where the Early Career Grant from the Society for Endocrinology came in and provided some much needed resource to kick-start the project. While it took a little bit more time and effort to finally identify tetraspanin-7 as our elusive fifth autoantigen, this early funding was instrumental to the project’s successful completion.

I have since been awarded a 3-year fellowship by JDRF to continue my research into tetraspanin-7 in the laboratory of Professor Patrik Rorsman FRS, FMedSci at the University of Oxford. We published our study in Diabetes, and it was covered in the mainstream media by the BBC, at one point trending in the top 10 news articles, as well as by the Huffington Post. It was great to have the opportunity to share our research with the wider public, and I was very motivated to see how interested people were in hearing about scientific advances.

For young researchers, getting enough preliminary data to put together a competitive grant application for a major funding body can be tricky. The Early Career Grant from the Society for Endocrinology provides postdocs with the opportunity to explore a new avenue of research and can be used to provide that all-important first proof-of-concept.

The second advantage to this scheme is that it gives early-stage researchers a chance to go through the process of preparing an application for funding as well as managing an award,  but on a much smaller scale and without the heavy administrative burden of larger grants. I would certainly recommend the scheme to those keen to take the first step towards an independent career in research.

Kerry McLaughlin, originally from Cape Town, South Africa, was awarded her PhD in Immunology from King’s College London in collaboration with The Pirbright Institute. She then spent six years as a postdoc in the laboratory of Dr Michael Christie at King’s College London before taking up a JDRF fellowship at the University of Oxford in 2016.

For details on how to apply for our Early Career Grant, visit our website. The next deadline for applications is 27 November 2016.

World Health Day: Beat Diabetes

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There are currently 422 million people in the world who have diabetes – about 0.6% of the world’s population.

This figure is expected to double in the next 20 years.

In light of this alarming trend, the World Health Organization is dedicating 2016 World Health Day: Beat Diabetes to raising awareness of this life-threatening condition. Here are the basic stats:

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Diabetes is an endocrine disease. So, to mark World Health Day, we have created a collection of recent, high-impact diabetes articles and made them all free to read – for the next two weeks. So have a browse below and find out how science is bringing the fight to diabetes!

Journal of Endocrinology:

Current understanding of metformin effect on the control of hyperglycemia in diabetes Hongying An & Ling He.

Lack of glucagon receptor signaling and its implications beyond glucose homeostasis Maureen J Charron and Patricia M Vuguin.

Defective insulin secretion by chronic glucagon receptor activation in glucose intolerant mice Linda Ahlkvist et al.

Identification of ABCC8 as a contributory gene to impaired early-phase insulin secretion in NZO mice Sofianos Andrikopoulos et al.

Increased Slc12a1 expression in β-cells and improved glucose disposal in Slc12a2 heterozygous mice Saeed Alshahrani et al.

 

Journal of Molecular Endocrinology:

Oxidative and endoplasmic reticulum stress in β-cell dysfunction in diabetes Sumaira Z Hasnain, Johannes B Prins and Michael A McGuckin.

Non-coding genome functions in diabetes Inês Cebola and Lorenzo Pasquali.

miR-410 enhanced hESC-derived pancreatic endoderm transplant to alleviate gestational diabetes mellitus Yang Mi et al.

Inhibition of 11β-HSD1 by LG13 improves glucose metabolism in type 2 diabetic mice Leping Zhao et al.

Demethylation of the MafB promoter in a compromised β-cell model Wataru Nishimura et al.

 

Endocrine Connections:

Update on strategies limiting iatrogenic hypoglycemia Aldo Bonaventura, Fabrizio Montecucco and Franco Dallegri.

Central and peripheral pathogenetic forms of type 2 diabetes: a proof-of-concept study Dmitry M Davydov and Malik K Nurbekov.

Lower fasting blood glucose in neurofibromatosis type 1 Aline Stangherlin Martins et al.

Gut microbiota and diet in patients with different glucose tolerance Lilit Egshatyan et al.

Mendelian randomization studies of biomarkers and type 2 diabetes Ali Abbasi.

 

 Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Case Reports:

A silent myocardial infarction in the diabetes outpatient clinic: case report and review of the literature M S Draman et al.

Severe hypercalcemia and hypernatremia in a patient treated with canagliflozin Arshpreet Kaur and Stephen J Winters

Spontaneous diabetic myonecrosis: report of four cases from a tertiary care institute Soham Mukherjee et al.

One year remission of type 1 diabetes mellitus in a patient treated with sitagliptin Marcos M Lima-Martínez et al.

Suspension of basal insulin to avoid hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetes treated with insulin pump Mauro Boronat

World Health Day: Beat Diabetes

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There are currently 422 million people in the world who have diabetes. This figure is expected to double in the next 20 years. In light of this alarming trend, the World Health Organization is dedicating 2016 World Health Day: Beat Diabetes to raising awareness of this life-threatening condition.

For World Health Day we decided to raise awareness by asking two prominent diabetes experts about their work and the hurdles that they feel need to be overcome to beat this disease.

 

Dr Sof AndrikopoulosSof

Dr Sof Andrikopoulos is President of the Australian Diabetes Society and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He is also Editor-in-Chief of two of our journals: Journal of Endocrinology and Journal of Molecular Endocrinology.

What is the focus of your current research?

My research strives to understand the genetic and biochemical mechanism(s) associated with beta cell dysfunction in type 2 diabetes. We recently identified a novel genetic cause for this dysfunction in a preclinical model (Andrikopoulos et al. J. Endocrinol 228:61-73, 2016).

How does your research have the potential to translate to a clinical setting?

While there has been a significant increase in drugs available to treat type 2 diabetes, none currently target beta cell dysfunction – the underlying cause of the disease. My group aims to address this.

Do you think the day will arrive when we’ll have beaten diabetes?

I truly believe that we will reach a point where we are able to effectively manage diabetes and avoid the associated life-threatening complications. This will be achieved by research focussed on understanding the genetic cause(s) of the disease.

What is the greatest highlight of your career so far?

My greatest achievement by far is to have mentored a number of scientists who are now forging their own independent careers in medical research.  Mentoring is the most important activity I engage in and I am extremely proud of all the scientists I have worked with.

 

Professor Nick Finer

Nick FinerAs a Consultant Endocrinologist at University College Hospital in London, Professor Nick Finer treats patients affected by diabetes and its complications. Here, Nick describes the progress that has been made during his career and his thoughts on the future of diabetes.

What have been the biggest advances in the field of diabetes in the last 20 years? 

Technologies such as glucometers, together with pen devices for insulin delivery, have allowed people with diabetes to achieve ever better glycaemic control. Cardiovascular risk management via statins has also had a huge impact on health improvement.

What are the biggest challenges you face in the treatment of diabetes?

Encouraging patients to understand that diabetes is never ‘mild’ and thus motivating them to reduce their personal health risks.

What do you feel needs to happen to enable us to beat diabetes?

We have to tackle the still growing devastation from ever-increasing obesity prevalence. Governments, societies and individuals have to reverse the unbridled proliferation of cheap, unhealthy food.

What is the greatest highlight of your career so far?

Seeing and being at the forefront of the transition of obesity from a curiosity to a cutting-edge scientific and clinical discipline.
To find out more about diabetes, visit You & Your Hormones, the official public information website of the Society for Endocrinology.