Mark Atkinson, Ph.D.
Director, UF Diabetes Institute
Professor, Departments of Pathology and Pediatrics
Ph.D., University of Florida
Pathogenesis/Type 1 diabetes, Immunology, Microbiome, JDRF nPOD, Prevention Studies
Dr. Atkinson is currently the American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar for Diabetes Research and the Jeffrey Keene Family Professor at The University of Florida. He also is the Director of the Diabetes Institute at UF. The author of over 400 publications, Dr. Atkinson is beginning his 34th year of investigation into the field of type 1 diabetes. Dr. Atkinson has been the recipient of multiple scientific and humanitarian based awards for these efforts. Those include each of the three from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). The first was the Gerold and Gayla Grodsky award (2001) provided to the outstanding Ph.D. investigating type 1 diabetes. He is a three-time recipient of the Mary Tyler Moore & S. Robert Levine M.D. award for translational research on type 1 diabetes (2004, 2008, and 2014). He was also the recipient of the JDRF’s David Rumbough award for contributions to diabetes research (2005) and the prestigious Eli Lilly Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) (2004). He also received the Barbara Davis Award for contributions to the field seeking to prevent type 1 diabetes (2015), the Claes HellerströmAward (Sweden) for his efforts promoting pancreas research in this disease (2016), and the 2016 recipient of the outstanding alumni award from his alma mater (The University of Michigan-Dearborn). Most recently, he received the UF College of Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award (2018), the ADA Humanitarian Award (2018) and the ADA Albert Renold Award (2018). He has also engaged in leadership service to the type 1 diabetes community, with active administrative or advisory service to JDRF, The American Diabetes Association (ADA), The National Institutes of Health, The Immunology of Diabetes Society, and a variety of companies from the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. At present, this includes service as the Executive Director of the JDRF Network for Pancreatic Organ donors with Diabetes (nPOD) program, and he recently completed his term as Steering Committee Chair of the NIH Human Islet Research Network (HIRN); both organizations are directed at major questions in type 1 diabetes with international recognition and impact. He is also a long-standing member of the NIH TrialNet effort, having served in a number of leadership capacities with that organization since its inception. Dr. Atkinson is also one of nine members of the Brehm Coalition for Type 1 Diabetes Research, as well as one of four initial members of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Type 1 Diabetes Research Initiative. He has served on the state, regional, as well as the national Board of Directors for the ADA, as well as past-memberships on their publications, scientific sessions planning, research review committees. He recently completed service as an Associate Editor of the ADA’s Journal Diabetes and now serves as ad hoc Editor-in-Chief of that journal as well as Diabetes Care. Dr. Atkinson is an 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, the use of animal models in studies of type 1 diabetes pathogenesis and therapy, and the identification of markers of tolerance and immunoregulation. With respect to the notions of prevention and cure of type 1 diabetes, Dr. Atkinson has extensively contributed to the performance of some seven “bench to bedside” trials. He has been active in terms of training and education of the next generation of diabetes researchers in many ways throughout his career, including service (two terms) on the NIH NIDDK Training Study Section, undertaking/publishing a 30 year research study on the effectiveness of JDRF training programs, as well as personal mentoring to over 30 graduate students/post-doctoral fellows/clinical fellows/young faculty (K awardees). Dr. Atkinson has been the recipient of numerous funding awards, with his program the current recipient of approximately $6.0M in annual extramural funding. Finally, he is President of Insulin for Life USA, the world’s second largest charity dedicated to providing insulin to persons living with diabetes in the developing world.
Key Research Advances and Innovation
When my research efforts in Type 1 diabetes began over 30 years ago, my (then) mentor suggested that if I found solutions to three challenges during my career, I would have done a good thing in life. Those challenges were to…
1. Determine what causes Type 1 diabetes.
2. Identify a means to predict who will eventually develop the disease.
3. Find a method to prevent and cure the disorder.
This list was, and remains, no small inventory of tasks to accomplish and unfortunately, only one (goal #2) has effectively been addressed by the community of type 1 diabetes investigators, of which we are a part. As a result, our research group remains fixated on questions related to why the disease develops, as well as identifying a therapy that would dramatically improve the lives of those with Type 1 diabetes.
To some, our method to achieving these goals might appear unfocused (at best) or the work of those easily distracted (at worst). However, we believe that adopting a series of core values renders our research group “unique” and form the basis for a team which we take considerable pride in:
1. Honesty and integrity are both priority #1.
2. Everything we do must be translational; all roads lead to patients with type 1 diabetes.
3. Our goal is to collaborate, not compete, with other investigators.
4. Be practical in our ideas and do not over promise what we can deliver.
5. Consider no scientific dogma beyond question.
6. Providing hope for people with Type 1 diabetes counts FAR more than papers and grant dollars.
What We Do
Our studies range the gamut of Type 1 diabetes research and include, but our not limited to the following major areas:
- Organization and performance of clinical trails
- Recovery and analysis of pancreata and relevant tissues
- Characterizing the immunologic and genetic abnormalities associated with the disease
- Utilizing animal models for the disorder, identify therapeutic interventions (prevention and/or reversal) suitable for translation to patients
- Identifying the role for environment and its factors in disease development
Dr. Atkinson is currently the executive director for nPOD. nPOD is a collaborative Type 1 diabetes research project funded by JDRF. It supports scientific investigators by providing, without cost, rare and difficult to obtain tissues beneficial to their research. nPOD currently supports over 140 Type 1 diabetes-related scientific studies at institutions around the world. To learn more, visit the nPOD website.