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Joslin Mourns the Loss of Dr. George Eisenbarth

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It is with great sadness that staff of Joslin Diabetes Center has learned that our friend and colleague George Eisenbarth passed away at 10 am on November 13, 2012 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.  Dr. Eisenbarth was a true giant in type 1 diabetes research, whose studies helped define the progressive autoimmune nature of this disease and use this knowledge to try to define new approaches to treatment and prevention of the disease.

George Eisenbarth grew up in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn.  His father, John, had only a sixth-grade education, and his mother, Esther, also not a high school graduate, worked in an electronics factory. Grover Cleveland High, the public school from which Eisenbarth graduated in 1965, produced about 1,000 graduates a year in those days, but only about 50 went to college. Nonetheless, George went to Columbia University on a Pulitzer Scholarship.

George then went to Duke University Medical School, where he met his mentor, the diabetes endocrinologist Harold Lebovitz. Thus began his interest in research into autoimmune disease and its link to diabetes.  Following a fellowship at NIH with the Nobel Laureate Marshall Nirenberg, Eisenbarth went back to Duke as a junior faculty where he focused on autoimmunity as a cause of endocrine disease, including type 1 diabetes. This was at a time when much of the scientific world believed that type 1 diabetes was a viral disease.

In 1982, Joslin recruited Dr. Eisenbarth to work at the Center, where he recognized the potential of on-going twin and family studies and used these to define the natural history of type 1 diabetes and its long period of pre-diabetes with active autoimmunity. These seminal studies done at Joslin changed the thinking of the entire field about type 1 diabetes from a disease of acute onset to one in which there was a long silent period of slow destruction of pancreatic beta cells by an autoimmune process, thus opening up the possibility of intervention and preventive treatment of the disease – an idea which is still being actively pursued in research around the world today.

In 1992, Eisenbarth left Joslin to join the faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and become the Executive Director of the Barbara Davis Diabetes Center.  He built Barbara Davis into one of the leading type 1 diabetes centers in the world. 

George Eisenbarth was recognized for his accomplishments with many honors, including the Banting and the Albert Renold Awards of the American Diabetes Association. 

He is survived by his wife, Frieda, his son Steven and his daughter Stephanie, who is also a MD, PhD immunology researcher at Yale. 

 

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Page last updated: August 20, 2014