January 30, 2001
Judith E. Fradkin, M.D., was recently named director of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolic Diseases (DEMD) for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Division manages Institute-funded research and research training in diabetes; endocrine disorders such as those affecting the thyroid, pituitary, breast, prostate, and bone; and inherited metabolic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and lysosomal storage diseases.
For the past 16 years, Fradkin has overseen NIDDK-supported research in various roles, directing the Institute's research programs in diabetes, cystic fibrosis, endocrinology, and metabolic diseases and most recently serving as deputy and acting director of the Division. Fradkin came to NIDDK as a clinical associate in 1979 after an endocrinology fellowship at Yale University. She earned her M.D. from the University of California at San Francisco in 1975 and completed an internship and residency at Harvard's Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. A practicing endocrinologist, she continues to treat patients at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, where she worked as a staff endocrinologist in the early 1980s.
"After a national search, it became clear that Judy's broad knowledge of research in diabetes, endocrinology, and metabolism; her demonstrated experience and effectiveness in managing a large, complex extramural program; and her dedication to NIDDK's research mission will make her an outstanding Division director," said NIDDK Director Dr. Allen M. Spiegel. "I'm confident that under her leadership, the Division will effectively meet the huge challenges facing us today, especially the growing epidemic of diabetes in the United States."
Dr. Robert Sherwin, president of the American Diabetes Association and Fradkin's mentor at Yale, describes her as a "very bright, honest, principled person who can get to the heart of the matter quickly. She has a broad scientific knowledge base emanating from her experience as an administrator in both the diabetes and endocrine areas. From ADA's perspective, I can say that we're very enthusiastic about Dr. Fradkin's appointment and look forward to a close relationship in support of diabetes research."
Under Fradkin's leadership, the Division has launched major initiatives in beta cell biology, functional genomics, and genetics research in diabetes, and expanded research on the pathogenesis and therapy of diabetes and its complications. Fradkin wants to bring the best scientific talent to bear on diabetes. "We already have an incredibly talented group of investigators. We want to provide them the support they need to be creative and to pursue novel hypotheses. We're also working hard to bring into the field new as well as established investigators who have special expertise relevant to diabetes and endocrine and metabolic diseases," Fradkin said.
Fradkin stresses the need to support a broad spectrum of goals and opportunities in diabetes research, including studies in basic biology, methods for improving glucose control (for example, noninvasive glucose sensors and cell-based therapies such as islet transplantation), and prevention research. "I'm acutely aware of what a burden diabetes is and how difficult it is to manage with today's tools," she says. "My goal is to foster research that will result in new therapies that take the burden off the patient. We want progress at every step along the research pipeline to expedite the translation of discoveries from basic research into proven therapies that benefit patients. My focus will be on recognizing opportunities, taking some risks, and putting resources into projects that would have a big payoff."
The Division is planning two new clinical trial programs. One, focusing on the alarming increase of type 2 diabetes in children, will try to develop community-based interventions that prevent diabetes in children at risk. The other, the Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus TrialNet, will expand the clinical trial infrastructure to speed studies of new agents that have the potential to preserve beta cell function and, ultimately, to prevent type 1 diabetes.
In 1999 the congressionally established Diabetes Research Working Group (DRWG), a panel of diabetes experts from across the nation, issued recommendations for future diabetes research. "I'm fortunate to come into this position at a time when leaders of the research community have devoted a tremendous amount of thought to developing a cogent, insightful plan for diabetes research," says Fradkin. "We're pursuing the full range of the Group's scientific recommendations, with emphasis on genetics, obesity, autoimmunity and the beta cell, cell signaling and cell regulation, and clinical research. We have many avenues to pursue, including recommendations regarding the special populations disproportionately affected by diabetes, and we intend to pursue them all to the extent possible."