Mark Atkinson, M.D., Ph.D. is the American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar for Diabetes Research and the Co-Director for the Diabetes Center of Excellence at the University of Florida.
He received his undergraduate degree in Microbiology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and his doctorate in Pathology from the University of Florida. Since that time, Dr. Atkinson has held several positions in the Pathology Department at the University of Florida. He also is the Associate Editor of the Journal Diabetes, and Chairs two National Expert Panels seeking renewal of the congressionally awarded, special funding for type 1 diabetes.
The author of over 200 publications, Dr. Atkinson is beginning his 26th year of investigation into the field of type 1 diabetes. He is a 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, identifying markers of tolerance and immunoregulation, and the use of gene therapy as a means to cure the disease and prevent its complications.
Dr. Atkinson's research is remarkably diverse in terms of its research scope, but near singular in purpose - to identify the cause(s) of and a cure for type 1 diabetes. Over the past 26 years, his research activities have involved studies of both animal models of the disease, as well as humans with, or at varying levels of risk for, type 1 diabetes. Dr. Atkinson's research lab can be considered as “translational” in its design, since many of his “bench-based” discoveries have seen movement towards “bedside” application.
His goal is to generate functional insulin-producing beta-cells from stem cells by replicating the signaling events during pancreas organogenesis in cell culture. Recent studies have shown that human ES-cells (hESCs) can give rise to pancreatic endocrine cells. However, the endocrine cells formed in vitro are immature and express more than just one hormone. Dr. Atkinson is testing and optimizing conditions to generate fully differentiated endocrine cells, including insulin-producing beta-cells, by supplying additional mesenchymal factors that are present during embryonic development but missing in current cell culture conditions. In addition, he is collaborating with others at UCSF to test the ability of induced pluripotent cells (iPS), generated from human fibroblasts, for their potential to form pancreatic endocrine cells. Successful generation of insulin-producing cells from iPS would open up the opportunity to generate patient-specific cells for cell replacement strategies.
Dr. Atkinson has been the recipient of multiple scientific and humanitarian based awards for these efforts. These include three awards from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and the prestigious Eli Lilly Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement from the American Diabetes Association (2004).
“In my twenty-five years of research in type 1 diabetes, I have never been associated with a group of individuals where a spirit of ‘cooperation’ versus ‘competition’ has been so evident. Be it sharing of material resources, time, ideas, or precious data...the Brehm Coalition is certainly unique; both in the way in which it operates as well as in the members that form the coalition. This, in turn, makes it very special. I firmly believe that this new model for research has the potential not only to change the way medical research is performed, but in addition, to make discoveries that will make a difference in the lives of those with type 1 diabetes.”