Friedman Fellows to Present Groundbreaking Research at American Diabetes Association Conference in San Francisco

Share Article

11 Friedman Fellows are presenting their work on some of the most cutting-edge diabetes and food & nutrition research in the country, ranging from the role of vitamin D in diabetes, to diabetes and cancer, to food sources in the Navajo Nation.

The Fellows' innovative work continues to fill gaps in knowledge which, given drastic cuts in federal research dollars, might never be achieved without the support of the Friedman Foundation and other non-profit organizations

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman New York Foundation for Medical Research will have a significant presence this weekend in San Francisco at the American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions -- the world's foremost meeting on diabetes – with 11 Friedman Fellows presenting their work on some of the most cutting-edge diabetes and food & nutrition research in the country, ranging from the role of vitamin D in diabetes, to diabetes and cancer, to food sources in the Navajo Nation.

Highlighting the lineup are Anastassios G. Pittas, MD, MS, the 2000 Friedman Fellow and current Mentor and Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, who will deliver a plenary address during the Seventh Annual Gerald J. Friedman Fellows Symposium, and Derek LeRoith, MD, PhD, a Friedman Fellows Mentor and Professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, who will address the links between obesity, diabetes and cancer. Four Friedman Fellows will also give oral presentations on their most current endocrinology research.

The Friedman Fellows Program is funded by the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman New York Foundation for Medical Research. Fellowships support doctoral students who are conducting critical diabetes and nutrition research aimed at improving people’s health and pushing the front lines of modern medicine. The program’s goals include improving standards of care for endocrine and metabolic disorders, researching the basis for such disorders, and developing more effective and selective medical treatments.

Since the first Friedman Fellows Symposium was held in November, 2008, the prestigious and well-attended gathering has offered a significant opportunity for emerging leaders to come together to build connections and exchange ideas on research and scientific advancement. This Saturday, June 14 between 6-9PM in the Golden Gate Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco, the following Freidman Fellows will discuss their research at this year’s Symposium during the ADA diabetes conference:


“To D or not to D: Why nutrition is so confusing” - Anastassios G. Pittas, MD, MS, Professor of Medicine, Associate Director, Fellowship Program in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Co-Director, Diabetes Center, Friedman Fellow in Diabetes and Metabolism (2000-2002) Tufts Medical Center, Friedman Fellows Mentor.

Dr. Pittas, who was named as the first Friedman Fellow in 2000, has received a major $40 million NIH grant for a five-year, nationwide clinical trial on vitamin D and Type 2 diabetes. The goal of the trial, known as D2d, is to determine if vitamin D supplementation can reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes in high-risk individuals. Despite a lack of conclusive evidence to the effectiveness of vitamin D for conditions not related to bone health, US sales of the supplement have skyrocketed and the vitamin is now one of the most talked about topics in health and medicine. The D2d study is the first of its kind to specifically examine whether vitamin D has an effect on prevention of type 2 diabetes.

“Early studies, by our team and others, suggest a strong link between vitamin D and reduction of diabetes risk,” said Pittas, who has investigated the connection since 2002. “While there is a lot of hype about vitamin D and its health benefits, including for diabetes, there is not yet enough evidence from clinical trials to support a recommendation of vitamin D supplementation for diabetes prevention. If the D2d study confirms our hypothesis, it could have a significant impact on the quality of life for millions of people and could potentially save the American health care system billions of dollars.”

“Obesity, Diabetes and Cancer” – Derek LeRoith, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Director of Research, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Diseases, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Friedman Fellows Mentor.

Dr. LeRoith is an internationally renowned expert on the role of insulin and insulin-like growth factors in pathological states, including diabetes, growth, bone disorders and cancer. He has published more than 500 original research papers, reviews and editorials and edited a number of books on diabetes and IGF-related topics. He is also the senior editor of a major textbook on Diabetes, now in its third edition. His most recent work focusses on the relationship between obesity, diabetes and cancer risks, as patients with diabetes appear to be more at-risk for certain types of the disease.


“Regulatory mechanisms underlying human POMC gene expression: Implications for novel Cushing’s disease therapy” -- Takako Araki, MD, Research Fellow, Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Endocrine Research Laboratory, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, 2008-2009. (Mentor: Donna Seto-Young, PhD.)

Secondary diabetes is a relatively rare disease that can be cured once primary factors are resolved. It occurs as a result of some other disorders, and Cushing's disease, a pituitary tumor, is one of the causes. Dr. Araki will discuss her research on Proopiomelanocortine (POMC), the gene responsible for production of Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Cushing disease is caused by excessive ACTH secretion from pituitary tumors and is associated with high mortality and health-related problems including diabetes, obesity, musculoskeletal disease, secondary infection, and coronary artery disease. Surgery is the first therapy, but the high recurrence rates “make the disease challenging to cure, while pharmacotherapy is not well established,” Araki says. “Here, we are presenting new evidence of a POMC targeting drug and its mechanism of action, as a candidate for medical therapy of Cushing’s disease.”

“Mechanisms of Vitamin D action in skeletal muscle” -- Lisa Ceglia, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Scientist II,Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA), Tufts University School of Medicine, Friedman Fellow in Diabetes and Metabolism (2004-2006), Tufts Medical Center. (Mentors: Ronald Lechan, MD, PhD; Anastassios G. Pittas, MD, MS)

Dr. Ceglia’s research interests involve the role of nutrition and hormones in aging musculoskeletal health. Included among her work are intervention studies to examine the effects of vitamin D and/or alkali therapy on aging skeletal muscle tissue in both rodent models and humans; a longitudinal analysis of vitamin D status and its association with body weight and measures of body composition in the Diabetes Prevention Program; secondary analyses of the STOP/IT trial to examine bone turnover markers in pre-diabetes, and clinical trials testing the effect of inhibiting myostatin activity on skeletal muscle mass in older adults. Dr. Ceglia will present findings from a recently published translational research project on the effects of vitamin D supplementation on skeletal muscle fiber size, intramuscular vitamin D receptor expression, and intramuscular inflammatory markers in older women with low vitamin D status, and will review studies in cell culture and animal models to support these data. The talk will also preview two of her upcoming projects to expand on this area of research in a larger sample of postmenopausal women and in a large sample of adults with pre-diabetes. Dr. Ceglia has a poster presentation: “Serum sclerostin levels following vitamin D and calcium supplementation.”

“Obesity and thermogenesis: Exploring the roles of core body temperature and brown adipose tissue” -- Lisa M. Neff, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Molecular Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Friedman Fellow in Diabetes and Metabolism, (2003-2006), Tufts Medical Center, (Mentor: Dr. Lechan)

Dr. Neff's primary research work is designed to investigate factors which may be involved in the process of metabolic adaptation to weight loss in individuals who have become overweight or obese. This adaptive process leads to characteristic hormonal and metabolic changes similar to those seen in starvation, such as a reduction in metabolic rate or energy expenditure, increased hunger, and decreased fullness, and is thought to contribute to the high rates of weight regain seen with obesity treatments. Dr. Neff will discuss recent studies exploring possible changes in core body temperature with weight loss and during the menopausal transition. She will also discuss new work on brown adipose tissue, a metabolically active tissue that may hold potential for obesity prevention or treatment. Dr. Neff also has a poster presentation, “24-Hour core body temperature is lower in postmenopausal women than premenopausal women: potential implications for energy metabolism and mid-life weight gain.”

"Retail Perspectives of Food Access on the Navajo Nation"-- Emilly M. Piltch, MPH, Ph.D. Candidate, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, 2011–present. (Mentor: Timothy S. Griffin, MS, PhD)

Dr. Piltch will discuss details of a project she worked on last summer with the Navajo Division of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when she spent 12 days touring the Nation, systematically documenting availability of specific foods based on the Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey (NEMS). “My work integrates the ‘social determinants of health’ to whatever extent possible, “she says, “meaning I can't think about the difficulties of increasing food access and nutrition while decreasing diabetes prevalence without considering the context in which families live, issues of poverty, unemployment and low educational attainment.” Piltch’s work is critical as Native American communities experience profound health disparities with some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes among all racial and ethnic groups in the US. She is most passionate about “supporting the growing interest of Native Communities in revitalizing traditional agricultural systems.” Dr. Piltch also has a poster presentation, “Retail perspectives of food access on the Navajo Nation.”


“Agriculture/Rural income generation outcomes in the Title II food aid exit strategies study in Bolivia: what worked and did not work for sustainability” -- Johanna Yvonne Andrews Chavez, MMS, PhD Candidate, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, 2011–present. (Mentor: Beatrice Rogers, PhD)

Andrews’ findings show that members who were trained during the life of the program or in producer associations have substantially higher incomes than non-members/non-participants. “Qualitative evidence suggests that farmers may drop out of associations because they are unable to meet quality standards to participate in joint marketing of the associations,” she says. “Overall, it seemed the commercialization model is successful for those who can take advantage of it.”

“Climate change & U.S. consumer food demand: assessing consumer impact and responses to climate-induced quality changes” -- Rebecca L. Boehm, MSc, PhD Candidate, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, 2012–present. (Mentor: Dr. Sean Cash)

After researching the impact of climate change on tea production and quality across China, Dr. Boehm has embarked on a collaborative project conducted by faculty from the Tufts Departments of Biology and Chemistry on consumer responses to climate-induced quality changes in tea products. The study, now in the planning process, will begin late fall 2014. “The Friedman Fellowship has provided me with the flexibility to pursue the research agenda I want to pursue within the bounds of my school's research focus, instead of being tied directly to my advisor's or other Friedman School faculty grants, she says. “This level of independence has allowed me to be creative and innovative in my research focus.”

“Does irisin have an effect on female reproductive function? Initial in-vitro studies” -- Julie R Islam, MD. Research Fellow – Gerald J Friedman Diabetes Institute, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Endocrine Research Laboratory, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, 2013-2014. (Mentors: Dr. SetoYoung & Dr. Poretsky)

Dr. Islam’s primary field of work is studying the effects of the hormone irisin on gonadotropins (protein hormones secreted by pituitary cells) in mouse cells and on steroid hormones in human granulose cells. “Our focus is to better understand the role of this recently discovered hormone and the therapeutic implications it may possess,” Dr. Islam says. Sometimes called the “exercise hormone,” Irisin has been implicated in the conversion of white fat (bad fat) to brown or beige fat (good fat). “There has been a lot of attention and curiosity as to what irisin is, how it works, and how it affects other systems in the body,” she adds. “My research focuses on the effects of irisin on the reproductive system. As obesity is closely linked to infertility, my aim is provide more insight into the mechanism for which infertility occurs in women that could possibly be used in new treatment strategies.” Dr. Islam will present a second poster on a randomized, controlled study on the effect of Sevelamer – a drug to lower blood phosphorus levels in kidney dialysis -- on oxidant stress and albuminuria in patients with type 2 diabetes and kidney disease.

“Lessons learned from the Greater Horn of Africa crisis 2011-2012” -- Jeeyon Janet Kim, MSPH, Friedman School, Tufts University, 2013-present. (Mentor: William A. Masters, MA, PhD)

With an avid interest in humanitarian disasters and food security, Dr. Kim has worked with Dr. Daniel Maxwell at the Feinstein International Center to examine the Horn of Africa Crisis of 2011-2012, to draw lessons learned and inform future humanitarian assistance. The desk review, part of a larger study supported by the Feinstein International Center and the Rift Valley Institute, unearthed a plethora of literature. “We found there was a growing body of literature on early warning and response, programs and their evaluation, but very little on the role of community-led or diaspora responses to the crisis,” Dr. Kim says. “We are currently conducting interviews and fieldwork to further explore these topics.”

“Measuring food price differentials between small and large retailers” -- Joseph T. Llobrera, MA, Ph.D. Candidate, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, 2007–2014. (Mentor: Parke Wilde, PhD)

As an interdisciplinary researcher working at the intersection of nutrition, economics, and geography, Dr. Llobrera has a keen interest in the access that individuals and families have to affordable and healthy food options. To reduce the risk of complications like heart disease and stroke, people living with diabetes need access to these nutrients. He is currently a postdoctoral scholar working on a project funded by USDA’s Economic Research Service that “examines the relationship between access to healthy food options and household food acquisition patterns,” Llobrera says, adding that, “I would not have been able to participate in this research endeavor were it not for the Friedman Fellowship and Friedman School.”

“Accounting for nutrition in assessments of environmental impacts: comparing beef production systems” – Nicole Tichenor, MS, PhD Candidate, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, 2012–present. (Mentor: Dr. Griffin)

Dr. Tichenor conducts research at the intersection of agriculture, environment and public health, focusing on the potential of alternative farming systems and supply chains to increase the sustainability of the food system. He current research applies a nutrition lens to the assessment of life-cycle environmental impacts of beef production systems. “This is important because most environmental analyses compare impact per pound of meat produced, ignoring differences in meat composition (e.g,, fat versus lean) and transformations prior to consumption (e.g., trimming fat from steak),” Dr. Islam explains. Beef is a major source of saturated fat in the American diet, which is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Alternatives, such as grass-finished beef, often produce leaner cuts of beef than conventional systems. “By accounting for the differences in meat composition produced from conventional and alternative systems, I'll be able to determine whether accounting for nutrition can alter what systems we think of as sustainable,” she adds.

This year’s symposium is hosted by the Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Tufts Medical Center, and the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.


Each year since 2000, outstanding candidates have been selected for a two- to three-year Friedman Fellowship and training program, depending on their research and clinical interests. Fellows and their mentors hail from 11 leading medical institutions around the country, including those at Tufts, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, NYU, Harvard, UCLA, and Beth Israel-Deaconess medical centers. Over 170 scientific manuscripts have been authored by Friedman Fellows, published in top-tier medical journals.

“The program has so far helped train and shape the research agenda of more than 40 talented emerging scientists in the fields of endocrinology and related studies,” says Friedman Fellows Mentor Leonid Poretsky, MD, Chairman, Department of Medicine (Interim), Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Director, Friedman Diabetes Institute, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, and Professor of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Their innovative work continues to fill gaps in knowledge which, given drastic cuts in federal research dollars, might never be achieved without the support of the Friedman Foundation and other non-profit organizations.”

“We are deeply proud of the accomplishments of our Friedman Fellows”, says Dr. Ronald Lechan, Chief, Division of Endocrinology at Tufts Medical Center. “However, we have seen only one chapter of many new chapters yet to come as Friedman Fellows begin to take leadership roles that will impact healthcare worldwide.”


The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman New York Foundation for Medical Research was created in 1992 to support Dr. Friedman's life-long commitment to the study and practice of internal medicine, diabetes and metabolism, clinical nutrition, cardiology, and endocrinology. In addition to the Friedman Fellowship Program, the foundation supports the work of researchers, their laboratories and projects in many diverse fields, most notably diabetes, nutrition, nephrology, neurology and oncology. In 2002 the Foundation named the Gerald J and Dorothy R Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and in 2006 the Gerald J Friedman Diabetes Institute was established at Beth Israel Medical Center. In 2013, the Foundation created The Gerald J Friedman International Institute for Lymphedema Research and Treatment, also at Beth Israel Medical Center NYC.


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

David Kirby

+1 718-230-4250
Email >