Graeme Bell wins Canadian research prize

November 13, 2002

Graeme Bell, Ph.D., the Louis Block Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Medicine and Human Genetics and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Chicago, has been awarded the J. Allyn Taylor International Prize for Medicine.

The prestigious prize is named after J. Allyn Taylor, a Canadian business leader and philanthropist and one of the founders of the Robarts Research Institute, an independent research institute affiliated with the University of Western Ontario and London Health Sciences Centre. The award, presented annually since 1985, honors scientists who make significant contributions to a field of basic or clinical research. Recipients each receive $10,000.

Bell has been a leader in the use of molecular biology and genetics to understand the causes of diabetes. In 1990, his team mapped MODY1, the gene responsible for an unusual form of early-onset diabetes, to a small region on chromosome 20. In 1992 they found MODY2, demonstrating that mutations of the gene for the enzyme glucokinase caused a different form of this early-onset diabetes. In 1997, the Bell lab found that patients from MODY3 families had one of several different mutations in the gene for hepatocyte nuclear factor-1alpha. Finding MODY3 led to the rapid discovery of MODY1, a functionally related gene known as HNF-4alpha.

In 2000, Bell's team identified the major susceptibility gene for type 2 or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) in Mexican Americans. The discovery -- the first time that a genome-wide approach successfully led to the identification of a susceptibility gene responsible for a common, genetically complex disorder -- revealed an unexpected biochemical pathway leading to diabetes, suggesting novel approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Also receiving the 2002 Taylor Prize were Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, president and director of the Joslin Diabetes Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who studies the genetics and mechanisms of diabetes and the action of insulin and insulin resistance, and Dr. Ake Lernmark, professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, who developed novel methods to study insulin release from pancreatic islet cells.

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