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January 29, 2018

Louis Philipson becomes first James C. Tyree Professor

Director of the University’s Kovler Diabetes Center Louis Philipson (Ph.D. ’82, M.D. ’86) has become the first James C. Tyree Professor in Diabetes Research and Care.

Tyree, who died in 2011, was the CEO of Mesirow Financial and owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, and suffered from diabetes for 25 years. He was active in advocating for diabetes research and developing better care; his family donated the professorship to honor him.

“Jim Tyree’s efforts as a diabetes advocate were truly amazing and my name being linked with his is an honor,” Philipson told The Maroon. “It will also bring the spotlight to endocrinology research and help further it.”

Philipson has been in diabetes research for 25 years, initially studying the cell biology of insulin but eventually transitioning into the clinical and translational side of diabetes care, specializing in direct interventions and therapies. “Primarily, I am a physician so I am committed to my patients,” Philipson said.

“Over time, doing more translational research seemed more practical as I wanted to see the immediate impact.”

His recent research focuses on genetics and prevention of Type 1 and monogenic diabetes, a special type of diabetes which results from genetic mutations. While 98 percent of diabetes patients have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, a small percent have monogenic diabetes. “We’ve been pushing hard to get national attention to this type of diabetes, and personalize treatments and improve diagnosis of monogenic diabetes,” Philipson said.

Over the past two decades, University of Chicago Medicine has become a top center for diabetes care nationally. In 2006, Lilly Jaffe, a six-year-old with monogenic diabetes, was treated here under Philipson through a targeted therapy, and became the fourth case in the United States to have been cured. She is now producing her own insulin. “Treating Lilly was one of our biggest achievements,” recounted Philipson.

Although Philipson has been happy with the diabetes center’s progress, he has been alarmed by recent federal policies that aim to cut funding for diabetes research and for training programs for endocrinologists.

As president-elect of the American Diabetes Association, Philipson is up to date on the possibility of budget cuts for diabetes research. He believes that government funding is vital, not only to carry out research and clinical studies but also to attract more people to the field. “We’re alarmed by the changes the current administration has been planning and are calling on the government to not cut essential funding.”

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