Meet the Endocrinologist: Interview with Prof Simon Pearce

Meet Simon Pearce, Professor of Endocrinology at Newcastle University and Programme Secretary for SfE BES 2017, in Harrogate, 6-8 November. We caught up with him to find out more about his work and to discover his upcoming highlights and top tips for the conference.

 Q: Tell us a little about your career path and endocrine interests

I qualified in medicine at the Newcastle University, completed my postgraduate education at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith, Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and as a Lecturer in Newcastle. I was appointed Senior Lecturer in Endocrinology in 2001 at Newcastle University and became Professor in 2007.

My main research area is the treatment for autoimmune thyroid diseases and Addison’s disease. I have published around 150 papers over the last 20 years spanning molecular endocrinology, clinical trials and guideline papers.

Q: Tell us a little about your role as SfE Programme Secretary

As Programme Secretary I organise the scientific programme for the annual conference. It’s a great privilege to be able to choose the speakers that I want to learn from. My assumption is that if I am interested in the topic, then it will interest others too.

2016 was my first year as programme secretary and the informal feedback about the quality of the symposia and meet the expert sessions as the meeting progressed was great. I was very happy on the last day when it was all over though, with no significant hitches.

Q: What do you think are the programme highlights at SfE BES 2017?

There is a very strong programme on several subjects including calcium and bone, thyroid, and female reproductive endocrinology. Following the success of last year’s thyroid masterclass, we have scheduled a bone masterclass with two internationally respected experts on osteoporosis, a clinical management symposium on hyper- and hypo-calcaemia and a session on steroids and bone.

The meet the expert sessions on opiate-induced hypopituitarism, hyperthyroidism in pregnancy and next-generation DNA sequencing promise to keep you up to date on the latest advances in these important and fast-moving areas.

We also welcome more than 20 overseas speakers, including cutting edge plenary lectures from some giants in our field, Teresa Woodruff, Andrew Arnold and Martin Schlumberger. Home-grown highlights will also include two well-known members of our Society, Andrew Hattersley and Julia Buckingham, who never fail to both entertain and inform.

Q: What are you particularly looking forward to?

I always enjoy the plenary lectures, and Andrew Hattersley has been an inspirational role model for me; translating the highest quality laboratory science to change clinical practice and improve patient outcomes. So I think his talk will be a highlight.

Q: Do you have some words of wisdom for anyone attending SfE BES for the first time?

Have a good look at the programme at a glance page and plan your most interesting sessions carefully. I receive  frequent comments that there is too much going on at the same time during the meeting and people would like to split themselves in two. My advice is go to the session that you know least about, as you stand to learn the most from this, even if it feels slightly outside your normal ‘comfort zone’.

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

It’s clear that there is a lot of pharma work on small molecules that target several receptors at the same time to modulate appetite and metabolic phenotypes. I am also excited that during the next 10 years we may see new treatments for hyperthyroidism; the first advance since the early 1950s.

Follow the links to find out more about SfE BES 2017, view the scientific program and register online.

Meet the Endocrinologist: Interview with Prof Antonio Vidal-Puig

Group Photo - June 2017

Meet Professor Antonio Vidal-Puig, endocrinologist and Society for Endocrinology Medal winner for 2017. Prof Vidal-Puig is based at the Institute of Metabolic Sciences, Cambridge University and at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where his outstanding research, focusing on the link between obesity and associated metabolic complications, 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 Cambridge.

Originally from Spain, I studied medicine and trained in endocrinology at Valencia Medical School and Granada Medical School. I held post-doctoral positions in Boston at the Massachussetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital/Harvard Medical School from 1992-1999. There I had excellent mentors including Jeff Flier, Brad Lowell, David Moller and Leo Krall. This was a very intense, exciting and uncertain period, at the epicentre of major discoveries in the field of obesity. This was a period that defined my career, scientific focus, approach to science and reinforced my values. I have been developing my career in the UK, since arriving at Cambridge University in 2000, and now have an established laboratory and have become a Professor of Molecular Nutrition and Metabolism.

Q: Tell us more about your research that led to you being awarded the Society Medal

The lab is interested in why obesity results in diabetes, insulin resistance, fatty liver and ischaemic heart disease, in order to find ways of preventing these complications.

The key concept of our programme is lipotoxicity, which links obesity-related metabolic complications with the excessive accumulation of lipids outside adipose tissue, in organs including muscle, liver and heart. From the concept of lipotoxicity we have developed three main research directions:

  • understanding how the adipose tissue works, with the aim of improving its function and ensuring that lipids remain in adipose. This led to the development of our “adipose tissue expandability hypothesis”, which is now widely accepted by the scientific community
  • developing strategies to burn the excess lipids and prevent lipotoxicity through activation of brown fat
  • promoting that the quality of dietary lipids should be as healthy as possible, to prevent toxic effects.

My Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2017 will summarise our contribution to these three directions.

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

I will use this conference for updating clinical aspects of my work. The presentation quality is always good and helpful. One session I am really curious about is Workshop 1: Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine in Endocrinology. I think technology is essential to retain a competitive position in research and the topics presented are highly transferable and of interest. I think tissue engineering approaches to increase brown fat mass could be really helpful in preventing obesity and diabetes, I am curious about the concept and possibilities of using 3D bioprinting.

Q: What have been your career highlights so far?

I feel content about my career progression. I consider highlights to be our best pieces of research; our papers tend to be quite comprehensive and we believe they make important contributions. I think for this reason these contributions are well respected by our colleagues. Our reputation as a lab is important for us. Also as a proud introvert, I have not touted our highlights and have not needed to for our professional highlights to be widely acclaimed, however I do understand that it is important to make the public aware of their implications. Also, as a laboratory leader I know that to disseminate these highlights is important for the careers my lab members. In this respect, winning the Society for Endocrinology Medal is a highlight that reflects the quality and commitment of the present and past members of the laboratory.

At a more personal level, I admit I have an aesthetic approach to science. I enjoy understanding and identifying sophisticated mechanisms, developing models that explain reality and learning how biological systems self-regulate. I don’t think this is unusual amongst endocrinologists. Also, becoming a Professor at Cambridge University was a moment of satisfaction I shared with my colleagues and family. In some ways my career has provided me with professional freedom, which is a key value for me, beyond other motivations, such as power or fame, that I have always found energy draining and restrictive of my autonomy.

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

I think a big challenge in my research area, and others, is how to extract value from the excessive information generated by recent technological advances. Our challenge is how to analyse this information to prioritise the types of mechanistic validation that are necessary for estimating its relevance. Also, it is not only the amount of data, but the amount of unnecessary noise coming from poor quality research that makes this task more difficult.

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

As you become more senior in science, you often suffer the disadvantage that your professional horizon is shorter. However, this position also has the advantage that you can be more selective in your choice of projects, with more freedom to take risks. I think my laboratory in this respect is quite entrepreneurial, we are innovating by entering new fields/technologies, which I think is important for remaining competitive.  For example, we have opened a new lab at Sanger, funded by the European Research Council to work on stem cells and adipose tissue. We are also developing two new programmes of research; one in Nanjing focused on murine models of fatty liver, and another in Bangalore focused on adipose tissue stem cell biology to model obesity and diabetes in India. These are exciting challenges that will provide opportunities for my younger associates in their future careers.

Q: Who do you most admire professionally?

I have learned a lot from many of my mentors, colleagues and trainees. In some way these experiences have shaped my values and my strong views about science and leadership. For example, I have always admired the intellectual rigour and scientific honesty of Brad Lowell. I admired the consistency and confident leadership of Jeff Flier and the legacy of Daniel Lane, who developed many academic scientists in his lab to share his cultural values and collegiality, which they now disseminate to the next generations. I find this very impressive.

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

Endocrinology is not a specialty that will make you rich, but it is a specialty where you can fulfill your intellectual scientific needs and enjoy the human aspect of practicing medicine. It is very satisfying because your patients get better and, given that treatments are required long term, an important factor in the success depends on establishing an empathetic relationship with them. You will get to know many of your patients well, from whom you will receive gratitude and a sense of meaning and fulfillment. In this respect it is a very rewarding profession.

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

I think real breakthrough with long term impact requires deep knowledge and new technologies, I have become quite sceptical about quick or easy breakthroughs that address complex problems. It is important to understand how regulatory systems operate, to learn what the adaptive changes of the organism or cell to maintain normality are, and to determine the intrinsic capacity of these systems to recover normality if the early factors of the disease are removed. For this reason, we focus on early disease events, aiming to prevent or reverse excessive damage to the homeostatic system and regain metabolic control. In this sense, we think it is as important to learn how the problem occurs as it is to learn the trigger and why it occurs. In our field I think understanding how lipids mediate disease could be used for prevention, early diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

You can hear Prof Vidal-Puig’s Society for Endocrinology lecture on Wednesday 8 November, 15:45-16:45, 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.

SfE BES – Call for abstracts!

The annual Society conference, SfE BES, takes place this year in Brighton on 7-9 November 2016. It’s a great chance to network with colleagues, showcase your work and explore new research in your area of endocrinology. Our programme of events is varied yet specific – bringing together the best of basic science, clinical investigation and clinical practice, you have the chance to expand your horizons into other parts of the field whilst also attending those lectures which are really specific to you.

The submission system for abstracts is open until midnight on Wednesday 22nd June – so you have more than enough time to polish your final abstract and send it along. It’s not just a chance to show your colleagues across the whole field of endocrinology what you’ve been working on – it’s a chance to tell them why what you’ve been working on is important.

Last year at SfE BES, a great programme highlight was a session entitled ‘Evolving model systems for complex tissues’, which was chaired by Kevin Doherty and Shareen Forbes. In the ’90s, manipulation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) was something of a new thing. It was anticipated that the ability to grow human tissues in culture using hESCs would provide incredible model systems for drug development, toxicity testing and cell therapy.

However, it wasn’t until 2005 that reliable markers had been developed and a significant number of important signalling pathways had been elucidated in the path to differentiation. By this point, some ten years later, finally a tool box existed for nearly every tissue type. This lead to some of the first clinical trials, using pluripotent cells to treat age-related macular degeneration. However, liver disease, diabetes and neurodegeneration were still elusive and challenging goals.

By 2014, fully functional human beta cells has been generated, and they took only 45 days and 7 stages in culture. This was a hugely exciting moment for diabetologists and researchers across the world. But then, of course, the question sprang up: could they be used as a source of islet cells for replantation? Or would they merely serve as an invaluable model?

At Kevin and Shareen’s BES session, they gave a detailed overview of both the background to the field of complex tissue model systems, and the current state of basic science and clinical research, highlighting very recent advances, and discussing the potential future.

The stem cell field continues to expand rapidly. 2016 has already been the year that Chinese scientists grew functioning mouse spermatozoa from skin cells – these went on to fertilise egg which developed into embryos and grew to successful progeny. What will the second half of 2016 bring?

With over 1000 delegates, 100 abstract lectures, 10 plenary lectures, and an evening of awards and prizes, SfE BES is the best place for you to spread the word on your research, and meet the colleagues that you want to work with in future. Your lecture might be the one were talking about all the way into June 2017.

So submit your abstract now through our submission system. Submissions close on Wednesday 22nd June at midnight.brighton 2

See you in November!

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.