David Piston, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Professor and head of the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been awarded the 2017 Distinguished Scientist Award for Biological Sciences by the Microscopy Society of America.
The award recognizes his groundbreaking work with fluorescent imaging techniques, which use lasers, glowing molecular tags and other tools to measure and monitor biological processes in cell cultures and in living organisms.
Much of Piston’s research focuses on how hormones are secreted in response to blood sugar. The lab develops novel probes and techniques to take detailed snapshots in rapid succession of live pancreatic islet cells as the cells detect sugar and release insulin or glucagon in response. Normally, insulin, which lowers the blood sugar level, and glucagon, which raises it, work in tandem to maintain blood sugar within a healthy range. In people with diabetes, however, the process goes awry. Much is known about how insulin secretion is regulated, but much less about glucagon, even though both are important. Piston believes a better understanding of how glucagon and insulin regulation is interconnected will help scientists develop improved treatments for diabetes.