|WASHINGTON SPIRIT Fall 2002|
Philip Cryer considers himself a lucky man. "I've mostly been allowed to do what I wanted to," he says. "It's nice when you can make a living doing what you like."
To his colleagues, Cryer's multiple positions at Washington University seem considerably more demanding than that. As the Irene E. and Michael M. Karl Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism in Medicine, he is an internationally recognized authority on diabetes. The Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, which he has directed since 1985, is consistently rated among the top 10 in the country. And he has taken on administrative positions that serve researchers throughout the School of Medicine, and address issues throughout Washington University.
If balancing the many roles of an academic physician seems easier for him, Cryer says that is simply because of the nature of his research. Because he studies an obstacle to the treatment of diabetes, he does his research on people. So patient care and teaching come together naturally with research. "That breadth of activity has helped me learn how to organize," he says.
As director of the General Clinical Research Center, Cryer draws on his skills to aid other researchers working with human subjects. Founded in 1960, the center is one of the oldest and largest of its kind. Investigators from some 10 departments of the medical school are currently drawing on its resources, which include nursing and dietary assistance for patient-oriented research, and lab facilities and computer and statistical support for physician-scientists. The center is supporting a wide range of studies, from one into the biology of psychiatric disorders to one into the transplantation of pancreatic islet cells, a potential cure for Type 1 diabetes. Since becoming director in 1978, Cryer has overseen growth in the center's resources in response to more complex regulation of research on people.
"We're limited in what we can do," he says, "but on the other hand, we have the opportunity to translate findings from fundamental science into insights into human physiology and the treatment of disease."
For almost 30 years as a faculty member, Cryer was fully absorbed in his responsibilities at the medical school. In 1999, his colleagues sent him to the Hilltop Campus by electing him to the Faculty Senate Council. For the last two years, he has chaired it. "This has been a learning experience," he says, with wry understatement. The council, which brings together representatives from the faculties of the University's eight schools, serves as liaison between the administration and the faculty on a broad range of issues. One recent initiative was the extension of the tuition benefit to part-time faculty. Cryer is particularly pleased that this will aid long-serving full-time faculty members who have had to go part-time for family reasons. The reform shows the responsiveness of the administration to faculty needs, he notes. "Serving on the council has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about an institution on the ascent," he says. "I'm impressed with the University's leadership."
David M. Kipnis, the Distinguished University Professor of Medicine, notes that Cryer has carried on a Washington University tradition of achievement in diabetes research. The disease, which can devastate the lives of people who have it, has mounted to epidemic levels in the United States.
"The focus of my research has been on a side effect of treatment that limits all current therapies," Cryer explains. This is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Cryer has spent years studying how the normal body defends itself against hypoglycemia, and how these defenses fail in people with diabetes. "We hope that our insights have reduced the frequency of serious hypoglycemia, but we have a lot to learn," he says.
Last year, Cryer traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, to receive the Claude Bernard Medal, the highest scientific honor bestowed by the European Association for the Study of Diabetes. He has long been active in the American Diabetes Association and is the only person in the organization's 62-year history who has edited its premier scientific journal Diabetes, served as its president, and received its Banting Medal for Distinguished Scientific Achievement.
Cryer credits William H. Daughaday, who directed the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism (then the Metabolism Division) when Cryer was a new faculty member, with setting the highest standards and, along with Kipnis, leading by example. He praises Daughaday for "letting me follow my own leads," adding with a laugh, "he gave me the opportunity to fail."
"By personal example and by his research and teaching abilities, Phil has been an outstanding member of the faculty here for many years. And I hope he continues to be for many more."
"Phil Cryer is the consummate triple-threat academic physiciana superior clinician, investigator, and teacher. His pioneering clinical studies have provided new insights into diabetes mellitus and other illnesses. His leadership of our federally supported General Clinical Research Center has been outstandingand he has recently served with distinction as the chair of the Washington University Faculty Senate Council."
"What he has personally contributed to this university is absolutely remarkable. He works night and day for Washington University. The fact that we have achieved more and more recognition in recent years as a premier university and medical institution is because of people like Phil Cryer."
"Dr. Cryer is an outstanding example of the physician who does research of the highest quality in human subjects. Under his direction, the University's General Clinical Research Center has achieved a reputation of being one of the leading centers in the country."
"Phil Cryer is a truly outstanding faculty member. A leading physician-researcher and key leader, he has served with great effectiveness as the chair of the Faculty Senate Council. I have observed that he can handle sensitive issues carefully and wisely. He is also a great contributor to addressing diabetes, both as a clinician and as a researcher. It is rewarding to have such outstanding members of our faculty who are also willing to serve the University community. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with him closely as chair of the Faculty Senate Council."