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Professor Andrew Hattersley

Diabetes award recognises international research impact

A professor who has contributed to significant advances in the understanding of the genetics of diabetes has been named as joint winner of an international prize.

Professor Andrew Hattersley, of the University of Exeter Medical School, is joint recipient of the Naomi Berrie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research, together with Professor Mark McCarthy, of Oxford University. The  Russell Berrie Foundation, that  is affiliated to Columbia University,  established the annual award in 2000 to foster high-quality diabetes research by rewarding outstanding achievement and simultaneously increases collaboration and scientific exchange among major academic medical schools. The award, presented annually by Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at its Frontiers in Diabetes Conference.

Professors Hattersley and McCarthy have been co-leading research in the UK into the genetics of rare genetic subtypes and common Type 2 diabetes since 1995 and have published over 160 papers together.  Their joint work has mainly been on defining the genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes, obesity and related traits.  In 2007, in a significant joint project, Exeter and Oxford jointly identified the first and most impactful common variant that predisposed to obesity which became known in the lay press as the “fat gene”.

Professor Hattersley said: “It is a great honour that the research we do in Exeter on diabetes has been recognised as being amongst the very best internationally, particularly as this comes from one of the top research centres in the States . This award reflects the many outstanding researchers working in Exeter on the genetics of diabetes.”

Dr Rudolph L. Leibel, co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, and chair of the award selection committee, said: “Over the past two decades, Professors Hattersley and McCarthy have helped to greatly improve our understanding of the genetics of diabetes. Together, they have led large-scale efforts that have uncovered dozens of genes associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Their work has transformed our understanding of the pathogenesis of both rare and common forms of diabetes and has led to novel clinical interventions."

Professor Hattersley' s recent work in Exeter has focused on variations of diabetes that are the result of mutations in single genes. One of his most significant contributions was to help distinguish these monogenic forms of the disease from the type 1 and  type 2 diabetes with which many patients had been misdiagnosed. Working with Professor Sian Ellard and colleagues worldwide, he helped to isolate 14 genes that cause these diabetes subtypes, including neonatal diabetes, pancreatic agenesis, and maturity-onset diabetes of the young. This research has improved patient care by enabling the creation of targeted drugs that can be used instead of injected insulin to treat monogenic diabetes conditions. Professor McCarthy's work has focused on identifying genes that contribute to type 2 diabetes. He has played a prominent role in the development of genetic approaches, such as genome-wide association and next-generation sequencing, which have improved our ability to find new mechanisms for the causes of diabetes.

Date: 4 December 2014