Diabetes Research Award Given for Work on Pancreatic Islets

Columbia University has presented the 2019 Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research to Alvin C. Powers, MD, professor of medicine, molecular physiology, and biophysics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center. Dr. Powers is the 21st winner of the annual award.

Dr. Powers is a physician-scientist whose research has focused on pancreatic islets, cells that secrete insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. In particular, his work has uncovered the steps involved in connecting islets to the blood vessels and nerve fibers necessary for proper functioning of the cells. Dr. Power’s lab has made critical discoveries in understanding how dysfunction of pancreatic islets leads to the development of various forms of diabetes, including how beta cell function persists in individuals with longstanding diabetes.

“Pancreatic islets are mini-organs that are integral to glucose metabolism, and Dr. Powers and his associates have played a key role in helping us to understand the integrated physiology of these cells and the consequences of derangements that lead to many types of diabetes,” said Rudolph L. Leibel, MD, the Christopher J. Murphy Professor of Diabetes Research, professor of pediatrics and medicine, and co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Dr. Powers has served as president of the American Diabetes Association and currently leads a number of programs that encourage medical students to pursue careers in diabetes research. He is exemplary of the type of investigator we are seeking to recognize with the Naomi Berrie Award.”

Alvin Powers and Rudolph Leibel

Alvin Powers and Rudolph Leibel (Credit: Columbia University Irving Medical Center)

Dr. Powers completed his medical studies at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in 1979. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Virginia.

The awards ceremony was held Nov. 16 during the Frontiers in Diabetes Research Symposium at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement is Columbia University’s top honor for excellence in diabetes research.


The Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research was established by the Russell Berrie Foundation in 1999. The award promotes and rewards outstanding achievement in the field. Currently, the recipient—a senior scientist outside of Columbia who has made major contributions to diabetes research—receives a $5,000 award in recognition of his or her accomplishments.

The Russell Berrie Foundation also supports the careers of promising young diabetes investigators through Berrie Fellowship awards for postdoctoral scientists researching diabetes. Each year the fellowship supports two fellows from Columbia: one foreign (non-U.S. citizen) postdoctoral scientist interested in performing research at Columbia University and one fellow at any non-Columbia New York City institution. For more details about the Berrie Fellowship awards, please go to http://nbdiabetes.org/.