13 June 2007
The 2007 Garvan Chairman’s Dinner was dedicated to raising funds to
establish the Don Chisholm Chair in diabetes research. Contributions to
the Chair totaling over $1,000,000 were made by the Federal Government;
Diabetes Australia Research Trust; GlaxoSmithKline; and private
individuals. In addition, GlaxoSmithKline chose to establish the GSK
Don Chisholm Fellowship to recognize Professor Chisholm’s
Diabetes research at Garvan has grown from a bare handful of researchers in the 1970s when Don Chisholm arrived, into a major force internationally working towards better treatment, prevention or cure of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. At the Dinner, we asked Don about some of the Eureka moments in this journey and what he sees the future holds:
“As a scientist, it’s not so much about Eureka moments but more about a time when all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle finally fit together. Discovering the role of gut hormones in releasing insulin was one such milestone for me. Another was our breakthrough in understanding the role of abdominal fat, as opposed to ‘butt fat’, in the development of diabetes.
During my career there have been so many improvements in the management of diabetes – most flowing out of research by Garvan scientists - which have made such a difference to the lives of patients. For example, Professor John Shine’s cloning of the insulin gene, which meant patients no longer had to rely on pig or cow insulin and also allowed the development of insulin analogues. Professor David James’ cloning of the gene for the insulin-regulated glucose transporter. The development of fingerprick blood sugar measurement and the shift to ambulatory care, which meant that people with diabetes could now monitor their own blood sugar and have their diabetes stabilised at home instead of having to check into hospital for nine days at a time.
I believe that within my lifetime, we will find a way to prevent Type 1 diabetes, probably through vaccine delivery which researchers within Garvan are working on now. We will also be able to cure some people with Type 1 through the use of islet transplantation or stem cells. I don’t believe we will find a cure for Type 2 within my lifetime, but we will develop much better drugs to improve blood sugar control and help people lose weight. This will also help us to cut the risks of cancer and heart disease very significantly, as these diseases are heavily related to obesity”.