Philosophical Society of Washington

Too Sweet

Sisyphean Efforts to Understand and Treat Type 1 Diabetes

David M. Harlan
National Institutes of Health

2241st Meeting Abstract
Friday, September 26, 2008 at 8:15 PM


Diabetes mellitus, first described over 2000 years ago, is defined by an abnormally elevated blood glucose concentration. Current estimates suggest that 21 million Americans are afflicted, with devastating and expensive consequences for the affected individual and our society. The body lowers blood glucose concentrations by secreting the hormone insulin which promotes glucose movement into cells. In approximately 10% of cases, the individual develops the disease (called type 1 diabetes or T1D) because their immune system has destroyed their body's only insulin-secreting cells (“beta cells” located within pancreatic cell clusters called the islets of Langerhans). Revolutionary treatment advances in the last century have allowed subjects once facing certain and imminent death to often lead full productive lives. Current research focuses on understanding the autoimmune process causing the beta cell death, the beta cells' response to that autoimmune attack, and efforts to generate replacement beta cells for transplant-based therapy.

David Harlan

About the Author:

David Harlan is a Branch Chief at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) in the National Institutes of Health. His areas of research interest are autoimmune illnesses - especially type 1 diabetes mellitus - and immune tolerance mechanisms. From 1999-2003, he served as head of the NIDDK Transplantation and Autoimmunity Branch and more recently as head of the NIDDK's Diabetes Branch.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Michigan and his medical degree at Duke University. He completed his postgraduate training in internal medicine and endocrinology at Duke. He has held academic medical appointments at the University of California, San Diego, Duke University, and, since 1992, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, where he is now Professor of Medicine.

He is a member of several scientific societies and a reviewer for scientific journals. He has published more than 100 scientific manuscripts and chapters. He received the Frank Brown Berry Prize for Federal Medicine in 1997 and the U.S. Navy Legion of Merit in 2000. He served as Ray A. Kroc and Robert L. Kroc Visiting Professor at Stanford University in 2005. In 2006, he received the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Researcher of the Year Award.

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