The two feature stories in this issue of Einstein
magazine, “Back to the Future
” (describing induced pluripotent stem cells) and “Attacking an Epidemic
,” beautifully illustrate the breadth of research conducted by Einstein
’s faculty. From molecular studies of devastating diseases such as thalassemia, schizophrenia and autism to behavioral interventions for preventing type 2 diabetes, Einstein investigations are at the forefront of the nation’s biomedical research efforts.
For decades we’ve known the precise genetic glitches responsible for diseases such as thalassemia and sickle cell anemia, yet true cures have eluded us. The straightforward idea of correcting such diseases through gene therapy, first tried in the 1980s, has proved extraordinarily difficult to achieve. But powerful new research techniques such as iPS cell technology hold great promise for moving us closer to effective treatments.
By contrast, schizophrenia and autism appear to be caused by defects in multiple genes (only some of which have yet been identified) coupled with environmental factors that are still the subject of research—and controversy. But here, too, iPS cell technology may provide crucial insights into the key defects at the nerve-cell level.
For type 2 diabetes, a wealth of recent physiologic and genetic research has revealed why people lose the ability to regulate blood sugar and consequently experience serious complications such as kidney failure, blindness, amputations and heart disease. But despite new targets for diabetes therapy and the novel glucose-lowering medications now available, an “inconvenient truth” remains: ever-larger numbers of Americans are developing type 2 diabetes, at an enormous cost to our healthcare system. That is why Einstein
’s pursuit of community and population-based approaches to diabetes prevention is so important. The work of our researchers offers hope for reversing the tide of the epidemic in the Bronx, in the greater New York area and indeed in countries such as India and China, which are beginning to experience their own diabetes epidemics.
Allen M. Spiegel, M.D.
The Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean