Graeme Bell gets Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement Award

June 18, 2013

Graeme Ian Bell, PhD, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics and an investigator in the University of Chicago Medicine Kovler Diabetes Center, has been awarded the 2013 Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement Award from the American Diabetes Association for his pioneering work in understanding the role of genetics in the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes.

The prize is the highest scientific honor from the American Diabetes Association and is awarded annually "to honor highly meritorious career achievement in the field of diabetes research." The award was inaugurated in 1941 in memory of Sir Frederick Banting, a Canadian medical scientist, doctor and Nobel laureate who was one of the key investigators to discover insulin.

Bell will receive the award and deliver the Banting Lecture at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions on June 23, 2013, in Chicago. He is the fourth scientist from the University of Chicago to win the award, joining R.R. Bensley, MD (1952), Donald F. Steiner, MD (1976) and Arthur Rubenstein, MD (1983).

"I'm honored that I was selected," Bell said. "It's more significant in that I'm the fourth faculty member from the University of Chicago to have received it. It puts me in some pretty distinguished company."

Bell studies the genetics of diabetes mellitus and the biology of the insulin-secreting pancreatic beta-cell. He cloned and characterized many of the genes that are key in the regulation of glucose metabolism including insulin, glucagon, glucose transporters and many others.

Working with Nancy Cox, PhD, professor of medicine and human genetics and section chief of genetic medicine at the University of Chicago, Bell discovered mutations in the genes for glucokinase and for three transcription factors that cause an early-onset form of diabetes called maturity-onset diabetes of the young. Once thought to be very rare, this form of diabetes represents up to 5 percent of cases. Correct genetic diagnosis can alter treatment and improve clinical outcome.

Bell is a key member of the University of Chicago Medicine's diabetes genetics team, whose work involves using genetics to personalize treatment targeted to a patient's specific genetic defect. Babies with diabetes provide the most dramatic example of this approach. Nearly half have diabetes due to mutations in genes. Some of these children can be treated with pills that compensate for the genetic defect, rather than with insulin shots. More than 1,500 patients and family members are now participating in genetic studies aimed at improving treatment through a better understanding of genetics.

The Banting Medal includes a $20,000 honorarium. In 2012, Bell also won the Manpei Suzuki International Prize for Diabetes Research from the Manpei Suzuki Diabetes Foundation, which promotes research on diabetes by encouraging international contacts among young scientists.

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