Orville Kolterman, MD:
returning the favor back to the ADA
Published September 2009
Over 30 years ago, California-native Orville Kolterman, MD, received an American Diabetes Association young investigator grant, which he credits having "jump started" his clinical research career.
Decades later, Dr. Kolterman helped develop one of the foremost diabetes drugs, positively impacting millions of people with diabetes every time they use it. His story reflects the importance of funding young investigators and how they, in turn, may ultimately help multiple generations of individuals with diabetes.
As a graduate of Stanford University Medical School, Dr. Kolterman was awarded a grant from the Association in 1978 that focused on insulin resistance and dose response curve. Shortly thereafter, working as a researcher and clinician at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center, Dr. Kolterman was asked to volunteer for the Association’s California Affiliate. He ultimately became a member of the Board of Directors and then President.
Today, Dr. Kolterman serves as a Senior Vice President of Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and one of the leaders of the American Diabetes Association’s Research Foundation. Dr. Kolterman’s diverse history in diabetes science still surprises even him. "Concepts that I am helping to develop right now are things I would not have dreamed of two weeks ago," Dr. Kolterman says.
"Similarly to how I would never have dreamed to positively collaborate with so many organizations and companies today." Through his years of service to the organization, both as a researcher and volunteer, Dr. Kolterman’s knowledge has been priceless to the Association. His role on the Research Foundation Board is equally as valuable, as he provides a unique background of researcher,clinician and businessman.
On the Foundation’s board, Dr. Kolterman is privy to the concerns and priorities of the Association’s Research Program. In the wake of a struggling economy, Dr. Kolterman believes that the Association must make a commitment to an ambitious goal to support the next age of diabetes research.
"We need more funds to allow us to support an increased number of young investigators, in particular," believes Dr. Kolterman. "In order for an investigator to work in clinical research, he or she would have to dedicate more than three years to training. We must do more to encourage young clinical investigators, because they are in the area of exploring knowledge that will help bring about new prevention techniques, treatments and ultimately a cure."
Dr. Kolterman’s concerns stem from a phenomenon in the research world that will ultimately affect us all if not improved. Each year, hundreds of promising, new investigators are discouraged from pursuing their careers, because funding is unavailable. With the cost of their education so high, in particular, few young investigators can afford to stay in academia without a grant.
Although a particular researcher may have a project that shows great potential, the funding climate is so dire that even some of the best of the best studies do not receive an award. "A young researcher’s interest in a particular area in diabetes science leads him or her to formulate a question," says Kolterman. "And that initial question can have a major influence on the diabetes world. A young mind takes the knowledge from others’ previous studies and couples it with their creativity, thereby branching off and establishing their career."
"We must continue to attract young minds," says Dr. Kolterman. "Scientific breakthroughs usually come in the first ten years of an investigator’s research. We must help facilitate these individuals’ careers." As Dr. Kolterman demonstrates, generosity is the only way to support these investigators’ projects.
With the success Dr. Kolterman has had working with Amylin, he has been able to give back very generously to the Research Foundation as a long-time Pinnacle Society member. He encourages others who have been touched by diabetes themselves or indirectly to help the Research Foundation support the next generation of scientists.
"What is really important," says Dr. Kolterman, "is that volunteers, donors and researchers associated with the organization have a true connection to and a passion for diabetes. Although the reason for the connection or passion may differ from person to person, the need to support diabetes research is still the same."
Looking back, Dr. Kolterman marvels at the path his live has taken. "Avenues that I had no way of seeing opened up to me because of that initial grant," he remembers. "That is why it is important to encourage the next generation of scientists. You never know what that one person might produce in the future that may help the millions of people with diabetes."