David M. Harlan, MD, the Diabetes Branch Chief at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, has been appointed by the University of Massachusetts Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center as the Director of the Diabetes Center of Excellence and the Division Chief of Diabetes; he will also be the Associate Director of the UMMS Diabetes and Endocrinology Research Center.
Harlan will join the institutions in December and expects to quickly focus on three particular goals as Director of the Diabetes Center of Excellence: to build a patient-centered clinical care system focused on providing the most up-to-date therapies while also exploring new methods of treatment; to build on the strengths of the basic science research already underway and expand investigation into autoimmune disease; and to promote translational research and bring promising laboratory advances safely into clinical trials.
Harlan received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in 1977 and his medical degree from Duke University in 1980; he completed his internship and internal medicine residency at Duke University Medical Center. While a US Navy medical officer at the Navy Hospital in San Diego, he spent three years at the University of California—San Diego School of Medicine before returning to Duke to complete a fellowship in Endocrinology. Around that time, he had what he describes as an epiphany that has directed his career.
As an internist, Harlan enjoyed caring for his patients and being a resource for them. At the same time, however, he “began to feel that we really didn’t understand the diseases we were treating.” After listening to a presentation about research using a transgenic mouse model for hepatitis B, he approached the speaker and asked why he was spending so much time on research instead of treating patients who needed care. “His simple answer—that until we understand on the molecular level what causes disease, we can’t cure or properly treat it—changed my focus. Understanding diabetes sufficiently well to cure the disease has become my North Star, the driving factor in my professional efforts, and it has led me here to UMass and UMass Memorial.”
Harlan has immersed himself in diabetes care and research and is particularly interested in tolerance mechanisms and organ/tissue transplantation, as well as autoimmune illnesses, especially insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
“The breadth of work underway [at the Medical School and Medical Center] is impressive,” he noted, citing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes research and innovative clinical care. “There’s a brilliant scientific base and fertile ground for using current and future therapies. The leadership is obviously committed to driving the science to improve the care delivery system, and I am eager to help make it happen.”