Dr. Barry E. Levin, Expert on Body Weight Regulation, Receives Columbia's 2011 Naomi Berrie Award

November 21, 2011

Fellow award goes to junior investigator Kazuhisa Watanabe at Columbia University Medical Center

(NEW YORK, NY, November 21, 2011) – Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) presented the 2011 Naomi Berrie Award to Barry E. Levin, MD, a University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey researcher whose work focuses on the mechanisms by which specialized metabolic-sensing neurons regulate glucose and energy homeostasis. Junior investigator Kazuhisa Watanabe, at Columbia University Medical Center, received a Berrie Fellow award.

The awards ceremony took place at the 13th annual Frontiers in Diabetes Research Conference on November 19, 2011, in the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion at Columbia University Medical Center.

For more than 25 years, Dr. Levin and his team have studied the neural regulation of glucose and energy homeostasis, using the diet-induced obese (DIO) rat as a model. In a long-term breeding project, the researchers selected rats that were susceptible or resistant to obesity when fed a highly palatable high-fat, high-sugar diet. The rats that are susceptible to obesity display a genetic resistance to the hormone leptin. Leptin plays a critical role in the development of the neural pathways that regulate glucose and energy homeostasis, as well as the control of body weight. This resistance, which predisposes the rats to become obese on high-fat diets, can be altered by changing specific factors in the perinatal environment. Levin and his team are trying to identify those factors, with the goal of developing ways to prevent childhood obesity and to minimize the leptin resistance that accompanies obesity.

Levin and his team have also found changes in the sensitivity of specific brain cells in the hypothalamus (a pea-sized region of the brain that regulates body weight, endocrine function, and temperature) to leptin, glucose, and fatty acids (FAs), as well as in the levels of ketones (by-products of the breakdown of FAs), after the DIO rats become obese. These findings may provide clues to the potential use of diet to alter the activity of neurons involved in the regulation of glucose and energy homeostasis.

“Levin’s work exemplifies growing efforts to relate systemic physiology to complex genetic-environmental interactions. Obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancer are examples of diseases resulting from such interactions. Meticulous long-term studies have enabled Levin and his collaborators to unravel some of these relationships as they relate to obesity and diabetes, ” said Rudolph L. Leibel, MD, Christopher J. Murphy Professor of Diabetes Research, co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at CUMC, and chair of the selection committee.

Kazuhisa Watanabe, PhD, the junior award recipient, is a postdoctoral research scientist in the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. Dr. Watanabe's work focuses on the molecular physiology of the gene Ildr2, cloned in the Leibel laboratory in 2008, which plays a role in islet beta cell development, body weight regulation, and control of lipoprotein production in the liver. This conjunction of phenotypes includes many of the major characteristics of the "metabolic syndrome." Understanding the biology of this gene would be likely to help in the prevention and treatment of the elements of that syndrome.

Established by the Russell Berrie Foundation in 2000, the Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research promotes and rewards outstanding achievement in the field, while also supporting important scientific collaborations across institutions and furthering the careers of promising young diabetes investigators. Each year, the recipient?a senior scientist outside Columbia who has made major contributions to diabetes research?is given $100,000 to support a two-year research fellowship for a student or research fellow in his or her laboratory. The second $100,000 award supports a research fellow at Columbia.

Past recipients of the Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research are Graeme Bell, PhD, University of Chicago (2000); C. Ronald Kahn, MD, Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School, (2001); Clifton Bogardus III, MD, National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (2002); George S. Eisenbarth, MD, PhD, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (2003); Douglas Melton, Ph.D. of Harvard University (2004), Michael Brownlee, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine (2005); and Michael Schwartz, MD, University of Washington (2006) and Gerald I. Shulman, MD, PhD, Yale University (2007); Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, Harvard University (2008); Richard Nathan Bergman, PhD, University of Southern California; and Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, MD, PhD, Harvard University School of Public Health (2010).


The one-day Frontiers in Diabetes symposium on Nov. 20, 2011, was intended for scientist/investigators, students and clinicians with interests in diabetes and/or obesity. This year’s program focused on hypothalamic control of body weight and glucose homeostasis.

Upon its official opening in October 1998, the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center established a new standard of care for the 1.6 million people with diabetes in the New York area—combining world-class diabetes research and education programs with unprecedented family-oriented patient care. Named for the mother of the late Russell Berrie, founder of RUSS™ Toys, the center is today recognized as the most comprehensive diabetes research and treatment center in the tri-state region and has been designated a national "Diabetes Center of Excellence" – one of only three in the state of New York. Approximately one hundred faculty and students, affiliated with the Center, conduct basic and clinical research related to the pathogenesis and treatment of all forms of diabetes and its complications. For more information, visit www.nbdiabetes.org.

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The Medical Center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree and is now among the most selective medical schools in the country. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and state and one of the largest in the United States. For more information, please visit www.cumc.columbia.edu.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is the nation's largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital, with 2,353 beds. The Hospital has nearly 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits in a year, including more than 220,000 visits to its emergency departments — more than any other area hospital. NewYork-Presbyterian provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at five major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division. One of the most comprehensive health care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation's leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. For more information, visit www.nyp.org.


Columbia, education, Kazuhisa Watanabe, New York