Could a vaccine to prevent Type 1 diabetes be developed at the New York Medical College (NYMC) campus in Valhalla in a collaboration involving researchers, a major pharmaceutical company, universities and the BioInc@NYMC incubator?
That’s not such a far-fetched question to be asking in view of the arrival on March 4 of the NYMC’s new dean of the School of Medicine, Dr. Jerry L. Nadler, a renowned diabetes expert and leading researcher into the causes and treatment of the disease.
Diabetes continues to have a staggering impact on peoples’ lives and the economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2017 an estimated 30.3 million people in the U.S. had diabetes, with an estimated 84.1 million adults in the prediabetes stage. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimated there are 440 million diabetes cases. The American Diabetes Association estimated the cost of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. in 2017 was $327 billion, with $237 billion of that attributed to direct medical costs and $90 billion attributed to reduced productivity. Avoiding a poor diet and lack of exercise have long been accepted as ways to avoid being afflicted by the disease. But it may not be that simple because the underlying triggering mechanism still is not fully understood.
“We think a virus might be triggering it and we’re involved in a study of it,” Nadler told the Business Journal. “If we can identify which virus it is, then in the future a vaccine can be developed that will actually prevent Type 1 diabetes.”
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the quantity made by the pancreas is too low or the person may have developed insulin resistance.
Nadler comes to NYMC from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) where he served in various positions, including director of the Strelitz Diabetes Center, vice dean of research for EVMS and chairman of internal medicine. Nadler’s interest in the body’s endocrine system, which includes organs such as the pancreas where the hormone insulin is made, began in college.
While attending the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, Nadler had the opportunity to work with a scientist deeply involved in researching islet cell clusters in the pancreas. Islets make the insulin, which allows blood sugar to enter the body’s cells to be used for energy.
At California’s Loma Linda Medical Center, he had his internship and residency in internal medicine and, at the University of Southern California (USC), took specialized endocrinology training. He joined the faculty at USC, then became director of the diabetes program at the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, California. Eventually, he moved to the University of Virginia and EVMS.
He has been associated with companies working to develop therapies for diabetes, has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and served on major advisory groups for organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and National Institutes of Health.
In 2016, he received an award from the state as Virginia’s outstanding scientist. Nadler holds 11 patents.
While at the University of Virginia, Nadler led a team of researchers who managed to reverse Type 1 diabetes in mice. They used a combination of two drugs to produce the result. Their research was based on the premise that the body’s immune system was being triggered to attack and destroy the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Edward C. Halperin, chancellor and CEO of NYMC, said of Nadler, “His dedication to research, innovation and education is unparalleled.”
At NYMC, Nadler plans to avoid being chained to the dean’s desk. “Many times, the dean is full-time leadership and administration. I’m going to do that,” he said, quickly adding, “I’m going to have a laboratory here and carry out projects; collaborations with Harvard, collaborations with the University of Massachusetts, collaborations with institutions all over the country. I’m going to set up new collaborations with investigators and physicians and scientists here at New York Medical College.”
Nadler told the Business Journal that commercialization of the results of research done on campuses such as NYMC is part of the way medicine moves forward. He mentioned collaboration with the Tarrytown-based pharmaceutical company Regeneron as offering opportunities for new technologies. He disclosed that a researcher from Harvard will be setting up a lab at NYMC in the near future, and that there may be opportunities to work on developing medical devices.
“Telemedicine is always important and … we have all these personal services people are wearing, these Fitbits and other things,” he said. “There are a lot of things in the future we could monitor, a lot of aspects of disease … data and analysis and personal medicine.”
As dean, Nadler hopes to emphasize diabetes and related metabolic diseases in the curriculum. “As a physician/scientist, I’ve been very interested in all aspects of diabetes. The effect on the community, the effect on the population, the effect on the family, the individual. People will be very surprised to know that diabetes and metabolic disease affects everything from your head down to your toe.”
He pointed out that Westchester County is no different from the rest of the country in that metabolic diseases and their implications are readily found in the population. “This is something the students I feel would benefit from, additional education and training and dealing with appropriate nutrition/obesity areas,” Nadler said.
Nadler presented himself as an example of someone who came to a realization that he needed to practice in everyday life what he knew in theoretical terms as a scientist and researcher. “I personally took it upon myself to do some lifestyle changes and I lost 45 pounds with a healthy, sensible diet and working out. And, when I see my patients, I say, ‘If I can do it you can do it.’ ”
Nadler said the Mediterranean diet, based on lean meats, fish, vegetables and olive oil, works well. “I do believe it’s calories in, calories out,” he said. “There are a lot of ways to lose weight, but a lot of times when people lose weight they gain it right back because they can’t stay on that lifestyle. You have to pick a lifestyle that works for you and stay with it.”