The Joan and Sanford I. Weill Center for Metabolic Health Opens: Bringing Together Experts to Catalyze Discovery in Metabolic Disease

On September 22, 2021, the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Center for Metabolic Health officially opened with introductory comments by Dr. Laura Alonso, the Center’s Director and Chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, Dr. Tony Hollenberg, Chair, WDOM, and Dean Augustine Choi, Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. Also in attendance were Dr. Louis J. Aronne, Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center, and a vaccinated, masked, and socially-distanced room full of enthusiastic members.

The newly opened Weill Center for Metabolic Health is well-positioned to become a world-renowned leader for scientific discovery in translational and molecular discovery related to the pathogenesis and treatment of metabolic disease. Center members have an array of expertise ranging from medicine, biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology and biophysics, pathology, and fundamental cell biology. As such, the Center will be a collaborative hub catalyzing research advances in pursuit of solving important problems in human health. A key feature of the Center is one of its core facilities, the Metabolic Phenotyping Center. This state-of-the-art resource allows researchers to comprehensively quantify metabolic parameters in mouse models, a key step in interpreting how experimental interventions impact metabolism.

The Center’s opening ceremony took place in person in the Belfer Research Center. Following energizing comments by Dean Choi and Dr. Hollenberg, the vision, goals, and planned activities for the new Center were reviewed by Dr. Alonso. A keynote lecture was given by Domenico Accili, M.D., Russell Berrie Foundation Professor of Diabetes in Medicine, Chief of Endocrinology Division, Director of Diabetes Research Center, at Columbia University, entitled, The ABCC of beta cell failure in diabetes.” Following the keynote lecture, the group adjourned to an outdoor reception.

Experts in their respective areas, the Center has 44 faculty members (27 Ph.D.s and 20 M.D.s) with Mingming Hao, Ph.D. serving as the Center’s Associate Director. Dr. Hao, recruited from a faculty position in the Department of Biochemistry at WCM, has many years of experience in diabetes research focusing on pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction. Center members currently enjoy >$20M in support from the NIH; funding sources include not only NIDDK, NCI, NHLBI, NIAID, NIAAA, NIMH, NICHD, NIAMS, NIGMS, NINDS, NHGRI and NIA, but also foundations such as the American Diabetes Association, JDRF, American Association for Cancer Research, NYSTEM, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Gray Foundation, Gates Foundation, Novartis, and Pershing Square Foundation.

In addition to the Center’s focus on research and clinical care, initiatives are planned involving the mentoring of outstanding trainees who will receive career development advice towards the ultimate goal of growing new pioneers in the field. The Center also hosts internal and external seminars and has a number of innovative plans for stimulating collaborative connections and helping members focus on the most pressing metabolic issues of our time. The Center also has close ties to the EndoMet Racial Justice Team, which is dedicated to eliminating race-based injustice in our workplace and health care delivery environments. The team will be conducting outreach within the local community to increase the pipeline into biomedical training.

Recruited from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Alonso joined the WDOM in 2019 as Chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and as Director of the Weill Center for Metabolic Health. She is an elected member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, a leading physician-scientist in the field of endocrinology, and an authority on the basic biology of pancreatic beta cell regeneration.

Two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese and 10.5% of U.S. adults have diabetes. One in five U.S. adults who have diabetes do not know they have it. In addition, 34.5% of U.S. adults have prediabetes.

The official opening of the Weill Center for Metabolic Health could not be better timed, and the WDOM congratulates the entire team on their success.