For years, neonatologist Rebecca Simmons, MD, has been investigating the molecular mechanisms linking fetal growth retardation to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes later on in adulthood.
In honor of her research, Dr. Simmons was recently selected to receive the Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence in the field of Nutrition in Infants, from the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences.
Dr. Simmons's research has shown that fetal growth retardation impairs the function of the mitochondria – the powerhouse and energy source in cells. As a result the cells that secrete insulin (beta-cells) and the cells that respond to insulin (liver and muscle cells) do not function properly, leading to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Last year, Dr. Simmons and her colleagues used a drug called exendin-4, which is approved for use in adults with diabetes, in newborn animals and showed that the drug prevents diabetes from developing in adult animals when given very early in life.