Needham resident and neuroscientist Dr. John Campbell was awarded a prestigious $1.6 million grant from the American Diabetes Association in early February to fund his research on how cells in the brain control pancreatic and stomach function.
Originally launched in 2013, the Pathway to Stop Diabetes program awards a total of $9.75 million to six scientists, which each use over a period of five to seven years to help fund their research in diabetes science, technology, care and potential cures.
The pool of applicants is highly competitive, as only one nominee is permitted to apply per research institution. According to the director of the program Magda Galindo, over 100 institutions submitted applications.
“I was over the moon, it blew me away. I knew it was going to be a very difficult grant to get, it’s not often awarded to neuroscientists,” said Campbell, who works as a postdoctoral fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “The work I do has important connections to diabetes research. I felt like I had an outside chance at this- I was excited enough to just be nominated- so finding out I won the award was incredible.”
Investigating brain’s role in disease
Campbell’s research project, titled, “Molecular and Functional Taxonomy of Vagal Motor Neurons,” centers around studying and identifying specific cells in the brain and determining how they influence digestion, insulin release and glucose production. By broadening his understanding of those cells, Campbell hopes to provide new insights that can be used to develop treatments or a cure for diabetes.
“The problem is that we don’t know how a lot of these circuits work, so once we figure them out we have a better chance at learning how to treat these issues,” Campbell said.
Campbell said his lab director and mentor Dr. Bradford Lowell inspired him to apply for the grant.
“It is a huge honor,” said Lowell, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology at BIDMC, in a press release. “These grants are incredibly competitive and hard to get.”
Researcher has ‘promise’
Before working at BIDMC, Campbell did graduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical center. He went on to work at the BIDMC lab in order to study how the brain controls appetite, which shifted towards diabetes research after he happened upon cells that controlled the gastrointestinal region.
According to Galindo, the awards are separated into three categories based on the position of the researcher: initiator, accelerator and visionary. Campbell’s award, from the initiator category, is for postdoctoral fellows moving into an independent position, the accelerator category is for fully independent investigators and the visionary category is for seasoned medical investigators that are coming from outside the diabetes research field.
“Out of all the research project submitted in [Campbell’s] category he had more promise in the research he was proposing. He happened to be one that everyone was impressed with,” Galindo said.
Campbell said the money will go towards building the tools to match up the cells to their different functions, as well as to fund the lab and hire fellows and research assistants.