For more than 35 years, Dr. Mark Atkinson has based his research on addressing three fundamental questions: What causes type 1 diabetes? How do we develop tools that can predict who is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes? And how do we develop a method to prevent or cure the disease?
“We are going to figure out why type 1 diabetes develops and how. And once we know that, it will make preventing and curing the disease possible, because we will know what we are looking for in terms of treatment,” says Mark Atkinson, Professor, University of Florida, USA.
Mark Atkinson is internationally recognised for his research in which he has questioned the dogmas of diabetes research. This has led to an improved understanding of the development of type 1 diabetes. For his excellent research efforts, he is rewarded with the 2019 Jacobæus Prize. The Prize is accompanied by DKK 1,500,000 (€200,000) and awarded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.
Challenging longstanding dogmas
Since the 1970s, the predominant approach used to investigate type 1 diabetes has been animal models such as non-obese diabetic mice and biobreeding rats. Before that time, studies of the pancreas in type 1 diabetes, while rare, were nevertheless more commonplace and subject to collection at autopsy. That practice of studying the pancreas in human type 1 diabetes all but stopped when the animal models were introduced to the research.
The animal models showed promising therapeutic results and kept doing so in the subsequent decades. But researchers were rarely able to transfer the promising results observed in rodents to humans.
“About 13 years ago, I became frustrated that there were literally hundreds of ways to prevent or cure diabetes in animal models, but nothing was working in humans. So, I thought: Maybe it is time to take a step back and start looking at the human pancreas again. Maybe there is a difference in how type 1 diabetes develops between the animal models and humans,” explains Mark Atkinson.
This focus led to the founding of the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPOD) in 2006, where Mark Atkinson is both the founder and Executive Director. nPOD is now the world’s largest project on type 1 diabetes, with 248 projects in 21 countries. The scepticism that Mark Atkinson experienced in the early days of nPOD has now turned to appreciation that studies of the human pancreas can give a better understanding of the disease.
“Mark Atkinson is an eminent scientist and one of the most cited authors in the field of type 1 diabetes. He is an extremely well-deserved recipient of the Jacobæus Prize because of his open-minded and seminal research on type 1 diabetes,” says Mikael Knip, Professor, University of Helsinki, who is the head organizer of the Jacobæus Symposium 2019 and a recent member of the Committee on Endocrinology and Metabolism of the Novo Nordisk Foundation, which awards the Prize.
Mark Atkinson himself has the following reaction to receiving the 2019 Jacobæus Prize: “I am truly honoured to receive this recognition. I hope that these knowledge gains will lead to a way to improve the lives of the people with type 1 diabetes and lead to its prevention for future generations.”
Mark Atkinson will give a Prize lecture at the Jacobæus Symposium in Helsinki, Finland on 27 September. The lecture is titled “Emerging lessons from the human pancreas: rewriting the textbooks on how type 1 diabetes develops”.
About Mark Atkinson
- Professor, Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, USA, 1998 to present
- Executive Director, Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPOD), Gainesville, USA, 2007 to present
- Director, University of Florida Diabetes Institute, Gainesville, USA, 2014 to present
- Recipient, University of Florida College of Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award, 2018
About the Jacobæus Prize
The purpose of the Jacobæus Prize is to promote medical research. The Prize is awarded annually to a distinguished international researcher, who is invited to give a lecture on his or her research on a topic within physiology or endocrinology. The lectures are held mainly at Scandinavian universities or university hospitals or in other European cities and towns connected with medical research.
The accompanying award of DKK 1,500,000 (€200,000) is distributed as a personal award of DKK 250,000 and an award for research or development work of DKK 1,250,000. The Prize is awarded with the help of the Committee on Endocrinology and Metabolism of the Novo Nordisk Foundation.
The Jacobæus Prize was established in 1939 to commemorate Hans Christian Jacobæus, a Swedish professor and pioneering clinical researcher who developed a method for exploring the pleural cavity (thoracoscopy) using a cystoscope, which greatly improved the diagnosis and treatment of lung diseases, especially tuberculosis.
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