About Mark A Atkinson
Dr. Atkinson is currently the American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar for Diabetes Research and the Jeffrey Keene Family Professor at The University of Florida. He also is the Director of the Diabetes Institute at UF. The author of nearly 600 publications, Dr. Atkinson is beginning his 37th year of investigation into the field of type 1 diabetes. Dr. Atkinson has been the recipient of multiple scientific and humanitarian based awards for these efforts. Those include each of the three from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). The first was the Gerold and Gayla Grodsky award (2001) provided to the outstanding Ph.D. investigating type 1 diabetes. He is a three-time recipient of the Mary Tyler Moore & S. Robert Levine M.D. award for translational research on type 1 diabetes (2004, 2008, and 2014). He was also the recipient of the JDRF’s David Rumbough award for contributions to diabetes research (2005) and the prestigious Eli Lilly Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) (2004). He also received the Barbara Davis Award for contributions to the field seeking to prevent type 1 diabetes (2015), the Claes Hellerström Award (Sweden) for his efforts promoting pancreas research in this disease (2016), and the 2016 recipient of the outstanding alumni award from his alma mater (The University of Michigan-Dearborn). Most recently, he received the UF College of Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award (2018), the ADA Humanitarian Award (2018) and the ADA Albert Renold Award (2018), College of Medicine Wall of Fame Award (2019), and the Jacobaeus Award from the Novo Nordisk Foundation (2019; the most prestigious international award in Endocrinology and Metabolism). He has also engaged in leadership service to the type 1 diabetes community, with active administrative or advisory service to JDRF, The American Diabetes Association (ADA), The National Institutes of Health, The Immunology of Diabetes Society, and a variety of companies from the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. At present, this includes service as the Executive Director of the JDRF Network for Pancreatic Organ donors with Diabetes (nPOD) program, and he recently completed his term as Steering Committee Chair of the NIH Human Islet Research Network (HIRN); both organizations are directed at major questions in type 1 diabetes with international recognition and impact. He is also a long-standing member of the NIH TrialNet effort, having served in a number of leadership capacities with that organization since its inception. Dr. Atkinson is also one of nine members of the Brehm Coalition for Type 1 Diabetes Research, as well as one of four initial members of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Type 1 Diabetes Research Initiative. He has served on the state, regional, as well as the national Board of Directors for the ADA, as well as past-memberships on their publications, scientific sessions planning, research review committees. He recently completed service as an Associate Editor of the ADA’s Journal Diabetes and now serves as ad hoc Editor-in-Chief of that journal as well as Diabetes Care. Dr. Atkinson is an internationally recognized authority on multiple aspects pertaining to type 1 diabetes, with particular interests in disease prediction and prevention, the role for environment in the initiation of the disease, stem cells and pancreatic regeneration, the use of animal models in studies of type 1 diabetes pathogenesis and therapy, and the identification of markers of tolerance and immunoregulation. In 2019, Dr. Atkinson surpassed $75M in total extramural funding for his career. With respect to the notions of prevention and cure of type 1 diabetes, Dr. Atkinson has extensively contributed to the performance of some seven “bench to bedside” trials. He has been active in terms of training and education of the next generation of diabetes researchers in many ways throughout his career, including service (two terms) on the NIH NIDDK Training Study Section, undertaking/publishing a 30 year research study on the effectiveness of JDRF training programs, as well as personal mentoring to over 30 graduate students/post-doctoral fellows/clinical fellows/young faculty (K awardees). Dr. Atkinson has been the recipient of numerous funding awards. Finally, he is President of Insulin for Life USA, the world’s second largest charity dedicated to providing insulin to persons living with diabetes in the developing world.
When a first year graduate student at The University of Florida in 1984, my Mentor provided words of advice that remain a major part of my academic life. In a conversation regarding what areas would form the best focus for a research career in T1D, he responded, “If you pursue three avenues of investigation and find out their answers, you will make a valuable contribution to type 1 diabetes (sic)”. Those recommended efforts were to: • Determine what causes type 1 diabetes. • Identify a means to predict, months to years in advance, who will develop the disease. • Develop a method to cure type 1 diabetes.
Now some 35 years later, with both a sense of happiness and sadness, I can say that these three avenues remain a major focus of my research efforts. Happiness, in that progress has been made by the research community (with some contributions from my research group and collaborators) towards each goal, but at the same time none have been fully addressed. Indeed, progress towards each goal differs quite dramatically. For example, we and others have, to a large extent, developed a means to predict in a population of individuals who is likely to develop T1D. This is a major (if even partial) success. At the same time, its impact remains somewhat muted in that without an answer to the third goal (a method to prevent or cure the disease), efforts for disease prediction have been somewhat underutilized by the public health care community. That said, we are moving closer (and leading efforts) towards testing of agents capable of effectively intervening in the disease which leaves open the discussion of progress towards the first goal, understanding what causes the disorder. Sadly, of all the goals, this one remains the most elusive. Perhaps in part because of this state of progress, I have expanded my efforts to seeing insulin provided to those in third world areas as while not a cure, it does represent a life-saving entity.
- type 1 diabetes, pancreatic pathology, immune therapy, autoimmunity, clinical trials, translational research, emerging technologies, psychosocial behaviors, metabolism