DIABETES IS FAST BECOMING the No. 1 epidemic of our time. In the U.S. alone, more than 22-million people have diabetes, which is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease, amputations and blindness. UCLA is working to stem that tide with a new program to train the next generation of scientists to fight diabetes and other metabolic diseases on multiple fronts.
Established with a $2.5-million grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Interschool Training Program in Metabolic Disease is a Ph.D. education and research training program that will bring together researchers and educators from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the UCLA School of Public Health and other UCLA entities.
“Our hope is to develop an integrative training and research framework where students can learn to assess the many seemingly distinct aspects of dietary, lifestyle and genetic factors that cause these prevalent phenotypes,” says Simin Liu, M.D., program co-director and a professor of epidemiology and medicine. “Once trained, these scientists will be able to develop better insights and system strategies to curb this epidemic.”
Currently, metabolic diseases are on the rise, even as breathtaking scientific discoveries are being made that are unprecedented in the history of biomedical sciences, says Thomas Drake, M.D., program co-director and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine. “So the question many of us often ask is, how can we harness the major advances in biomedical sciences to bring out preventive and treatment measures to conquer what appears to be the public- health nemesis of our time?” he notes.
The mission of the new training program is to bring the best population and lab-based sciences to bear by assessing the impact of genes and their interactions with behavior, nutrition and the environment on health and diseases, and to critically and systematically evaluate the significance of genetic and dietary variations within populations. Ultimately, that knowledge will be applied to improving the public’s health.
“Talented young people who are well-trained in the concepts, strategies and advanced tools of both population and lab-based research remain a rarity, particularly in the field of metabolic diseases and disciplines of epidemiology and pathology,” Dr. Drake says. “This program intends to fill that gap.”