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George King, MD

Harvard Medical School

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George L. King, MD is the Director of Research, Senior Vice President, and Head of the Section on Vascular Cell Biology at Joslin Diabetes Center, as well as a Professor of Medicine and Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. He received his medical degree from Duke Medical School, completed medical residency training at the University of Washington Affiliated Hospitals in Seattle, and then completed training in Endocrinology and Diabetes as both a Research Associate and a Clinical Associate at the National Institutes of Health. He has been at Joslin and Harvard Medical School since 1981. In response to the rising rates of diabetes in the Asian American population and the lack of culturally relevant research, clinical care, and education, Joslin's Chief Scientific Officer George L. King, MD and supporters of Joslin Diabetes Center established the Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) in 2000.Dr. King has received numerous awards, including the Cogan Award from the Association for Research and Vision and Ophthalmology, the Edwin Bierman Award from the American Diabetes Association, the Alcon Award for Vision Research, and the Annual Award for Excellence in Research from the Japan Society of Diabetic Complications. He also was named Honorary Professor at the Fu Dan Institute of Endocrinology and Diabetology at Fu Dan University, Shanghai, China, and received JDRF Mary Tyler Moore/S. Robert Levine Award for Clinical Research from Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Recently, Dr. King was among a group of scientists who received the Champalimaud Award, the most prestigious award for vision research in the world.Dr. King’s research focuses on the complications of diabetes which is the main cause of suffering in people with diabetes. The most serious complications involve the eye, kidney, heart, large arteries, brain, and nerves. The laboratory of Dr. King studies the molecular mechanisms by which hyperglycemia and insulin resistance may lead to these complications in people with diabetes and insulin resistance.Dr. King’s laboratory has shown that activation of protein kinase (PKC) is a major signaling pathway by which hyperglycemia causes pathologies in the retina, kidney, cardiovascular systems, and wound healing. One major discovery made in Dr. King’s laboratory has been the identification of vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF) as a main cause of the severe form of diabetic retinopathy or eye disease. This finding has led to the development of the use of inhibitors of VEGF as a treatment for severe form of diabetic eye disease which now has been approved by FDA and is a main treatment to prevent vision loss in diabetes.Dr. King is also the founder of the Medalist Study which includes over 1,000 people with insulin dependent diabetes who have lived for more than 50-85 years. Dr. King conceived the Medalist Study in order to discover new protective factors that could prevent the development of diabetic eyes, kidney, nerves, and neurological disease in all people with diabetes. This new concept has been confirmed by the findings of protective factors in the eye and kidney in Dr. King’s laboratory and other laboratories around the world. The Medalist study has also provided exciting news regarding the possibility that people with type 1 diabetes have functional residual beta cells functions. This idea of people with type 1 diabetes retaining beta cells has supported strongly that beta cell regeneration is a possible treatment in people with type 1 diabetes.The third area of study concerns insulin’s role in regulating cardiovascular function in physiological and pathophysiological states. Insulin resistance is an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases not only in people with diabetes, but also in those who have high blood pressure, lipid abnormalities, obesity, or hypertension. Dr. King’s laboratory has shown that the loss of a specific part of insulin’s action in blood vessels involving functions such as vasodilation, anti-oxidative stress, and expression of atherosclerosis factors could be important for development of cardiovascular diseases. Dr. King’s laboratory has identified the concept that only part of insulin’s action in the vascular wall are lost which coordinating the term of selective insulin resistance which can exaggerate for atherosclerosis or poor angiogenesis which are hall marks of diabetic cardiovascular diseases, wound healing, and neuropathy. These studies have shown insulin-resistant or diabetic state causes a selective loss of insulin’s action with regard to one specific signaling pathway—IRS–PI 3-kinase–Akt—which mediates many of insulin’s anti-atherogenic actions, such as production of nitric oxide (NO) to dilate blood vessels and the expression of VEGF to improve heart perfusion, decrease of endogenous proteins such as VCAM-1 in order to decease inflammation in the large blood vessels, and thus decrease the rate of atherosclerosis or other pathologies. One potential treatment for people with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases is to improve insulin’s action, especially through the IRS-Akt pathway which can potentially decrease cardiovascular complications in people with diabetes.Dr. King is also the Director of Joslin’s Diabetes Research Center designated by NIH-NIDDK which is a very important and prestigious grant that is awarded to only a few centers in the USA and encourages different investigators to work together.