The top medical researcher in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs works at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital.
Dr. Robert Farese won the 2012 William Middleton Award, which is given for outstanding biomedical research, for his investigation into the causes and possible cure of Type 2 diabetes.
Farese’s “breakthrough” work is important to veterans because 25 percent of all vets discharged from the VA have a diabetes diagnosis, usually Type 2 diabetes.
His research has led to a better understanding of how insulin acts in obesity, the metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. He’s also developed a new approach to treating those disorders.
He said they’ve actually found where the defects are in the insulin signaling with Type 2 diabetes and devised ways to hit that target or block the abnormalities.
So far in his animal models, they’ve been able to prevent Type 2 diabetes and have reversed Type 2 diabetes in animals that have had the condition for a long time.
“Whether that will happen in humans, we don’t know yet because we obviously haven’t tried it,” Farese said. “It will take a lot of work and expense to do that.”
He said it will take an investment of millions of dollars from a pharmaceutical company to do additional animal testing and to take the therapies into clinical trials.
But Farese is optimistic he’s on the right track. He said in animals, his new, therapeutic approach out performs the most commonly used drug for Type 2 diabetes.
“When we hit our target, we improve glucose metabolism just exactly the way insulin does,” Farese said. “What this means is that by hitting our target we can reproduce what insulin does in the liver.”
Moving his research findings from animal models to human trials and eventually the market is years off.
But by winning the Middleton Award, Farese will receive an additional $50,000 in research support for the next three years.