Louis H. Philipson, MD, PhD, FACP, ADA President, Medicine & Science, is a data-driven scientist with an insatiable desire to ask questions.
He knew from a young age that he would pursue a career in science, although he didn’t immediately focus on diabetes research. He worked in a microbiology lab in high school and conducted some biochemistry research at Harvard University, where he received his BA and PhD. It wasn’t until medical school at the University of Chicago when he started working with renowned endocrinologists that he decided to pursue a career in diabetes research.
“Of all the things I could do in medicine, the ability to help people over the long term was very appealing to me,” he said.
Dr. Philipson is now Director of the Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago. He received his first research grant from the ADA and has attended all but two Scientific Sessions meetings in the past 35 years. He knew early in his career that being involved with the association was critical to his goals as a physician and investigator.
As ADA President, Medicine & Science, he’s following in the footsteps of some of his closest friends and “heroes” in the field by focusing on the role of genetics in precision medicine.
“What can we do right now using what we know about the genetics of diabetes to improve the lives of our patients?” Dr. Philipson asks. “We need to have a better understanding of what goes into their particular aspect of diabetes—the genetics of their families, their parents, and their children—and then figure out how that could lead to one day having the right sort of therapy. Not just an algorithm based on what’s common, but an approach that’s specific to that patient and their family.”
Dr. Philipson started out as a biochemist and then became a biophysicist with an interest in the cellular and electrical aspects of insulin secretion. About 12 years ago, he shifted toward human-oriented research and a focus on translational science with the goal of improving health outcomes.
“If you’re a basic scientist, I think it’s very important these days, more than ever, to understand what translational science means,” Dr. Philipson said. “How do you make your work relevant with more than lip service? That’s going to be an increasing challenge in these days of ‘science with a purpose.’”
As someone with diverse interests—patient care, genetics, cell biology, and insulin secretion— Dr. Philipson understands how the Scientific Sessions can be an overwhelming meeting with its variety of sessions. The challenge, he said, is not just catching the sessions that are most meaningful to you, but also to step outside of your comfort zone.
“I tend to find the lectures not in my wheelhouse to be the most fascinating and illuminating, and I would certainly encourage people to make that stretch,” he said.
Dr. Philipson also encourages all ADA Professional members to take a bigger role in advocacy.
“I think what we want is people to step up and to have more leadership positions, to be interested in being on the board,” he said. “Aside from the science and all the journals, the other 80 percent of the ADA’s work is directly helping people with diabetes day-to-day. It’s important for physicians to grasp that and to take leadership roles in making that happen.”
Dr. Philipson will deliver his presidential address, “Precision Medicine—Addressing the Many Faces of Diabetes,” at 10:15 a.m. Sunday in W-3001 (West, Level 3). The address will be followed by the Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement address “Treasure Your Exceptions”—Studying Human Extreme Phenotypes to Illuminate Metabolic Health and Disease, presented by Stephen P. O’Rahilly, MD.