ARCHIVED - NRC award goes to diabetes researcher

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October 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

A Canadian conducting diabetes research at Harvard Medical School is the next recipient of NRC's prestigious H.L. Holmes Award.

Jennifer Estall, H.L. Holmes award recipient and Dr. Pierre Coulombe
Jennifer Estall, H.L. Holmes award recipient and Dr. Pierre Coulombe

Dr. Jennifer Estall investigates the regulation of obesity and metabolic disease. Over the next two years, she will receive a total of $198,000 to focus on the role of the PGC-1 alpha protein in the development and pathogenesis of diabetes mellitus.

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys islets – essential cells within the pancreas that produce insulin. Dr. Estall proposes to investigate how the pancreas responds to an attack from the immune system at a genetic level.

This is "well-focused research of high relevance," comments Dr. Michel Desrochers, Director General of the NRC Biotechnology Research Institute and a member of the Holmes Award Selection Committee. He adds that Dr. Estall's application was "backed by strong publications in top journals."

"Our lab previously discovered PGC-1 alpha, which regulates metabolic processes such as energy and heat production," says Dr. Estall. "We also found that this protein can protect other human cells from the same kind of stress – the formation of reactive oxygen species such as free radicals – that occurs in the pancreas during an immune attack."

"Through further research, we hope to gain a better understanding of how insulin-producing cells are destroyed in patients with type 1 diabetes and find out whether PGC-1 alpha can protect the islets from damage," she adds. "My ultimate hope is that this research will lead to new ways to prevent or treat diabetes in humans."

Dr. Estall holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Toronto, where she also completed her undergraduate studies in pharmacology. She is now a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Spiegelman, a professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts. Dr. Estall was presented with the Holmes Award on October 3 at the BioContact symposium in Québec.

The H.L. Holmes Award gives recipients the opportunity to conduct post-doctoral studies at world-renown graduate schools or research institutes. Projects are undertaken in the fields of chemistry, physics, biology or mathematics as they relate to medical and biological processes. The award was established in honour of the late Dr. R.H.L. Holmes, a chemist who bequeathed his estate to NRC, in recognition of NRC's commitment to promote research excellence.

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