The visiting professor lectureship was established by family members and friends of the diabetes researcher Dr. Michael Brownlee and awarded for the first time in 2007. Dr. Brownlee works at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. The annual award honors Brownlee‘s research to prevent complications in type 1 diabetes, also based on his own personal experience of enjoying excellent health despite living with the disease for 50 years. The current visiting professor, Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, is director of the Institute of Diabetes Research, Helmholtz Zentrum München, chair of Diabetes and Gestational Diabetes at Technische Universität München, CEO of the Diabetes Research Group e.V., speaker of the disease-related Competence Network Diabetes mellitus (KKNDm) and head of the research division Type 1 Diabetes of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD).
Following her stay as a fellow at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard, in 1989 she established BABYDIAB, the world's first prospective birth cohort for diabetes. On the basis of this first diabetes study, which follows children with diabetes risk genes from birth for meanwhile 25 years, Ziegler was able to identify risk genes and antibody profiles associated with type 1 diabetes. These allow predictions about the development and onset of type 1 diabetes and will change the classification of the disease and the time of diagnosis. Among the many groundbreaking discoveries of Professor Ziegler, who is a specialist in internal medicine, endocrinology and diabetes, is the insight that the process of autoimmunity usually begins with the presence of autoantibodies to the insulin receptor. If so-called multiple autoantibodies are present, the onset of overt diabetes can be expected within 20 years.
By means of the cohort studies BABYDIET, TeenDiab, the Bavarian diabetes register DiMelli and the international TEDDY study, Ziegler is driving the exploration of the relationships between specific immune markers, genes and environmental factors. The objective of her research is the development of an insulin vaccination to prevent overt type 1 diabetes from developing in persons at risk. Upon the initiative of Professor Ziegler, as of January 1, 2015 Bavaria launched the Fr1da study, a state-wide screening program for the early detection of diabetes. This routine screening examination is offered free of charge for all resident children between the ages of two and five years. The diabetes screening program is supported, among others, by the Bavarian Ministry of Health and by professional associations of Bavarian pediatricians.
For Ziegler, the latest award follows numerous other awards: These include the Ferdinand Bertram Award of the German Diabetes Association (DDG), which she received in 1992, the Dr. Burger Busing Prize of the German Diabetes Union (1994), the Ernst Friedrich Pfeiffer prize of the DDG (1998) and the Mary Tyler Moore and the S. Robert Levine Excellence in Clinical Research Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in 2013.