Prof. Rebecca A Simmons

International Awards

Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence - Nutrition in Infants
2011-2012
Personal Details/Academic Background
 
Rebecca Simmons is Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also attending Neonatologist at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
 
Responsibilities and Assignments
 
  • Attending Neonatologist, Children’s Hospital, Philadlephia.
  • Attending Neonatologist, Hospital University of Pennsylvania.
  • Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
  • Director Nutrition/ Metabolism Research Affinity Group, Children’s Hospital, Philadlephia.
  • Associate Director Center for Research Reproduction and Women’s health, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
  • Director Career Development Core for CEET (Center of excellence in Environmental Toxicology), University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
  • Member of the Perinatal Fellows Advisory Board, American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Member of the American Diabetes Association.
  • Member of the Endocrine Society.
  • Member of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Society.
  • Member of the Academic Pediatric Society.
  • Member of the Society for Pediatric Research
  • Member of the Perinatal Research Society.
  • Member of the Society for Fetal Physiology.
 
Research and Achievements
 
Professor Rebecca Simmons’ research has been focused on early programming in fetal life and its role in the etiology of diabetes and obesity. The aim was to identify molecular mechanisms that link fetal and neonatal malnutrition with adult-onset diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, breast cancer and obesity. Her work has progressed from phenomenological description to the unraveling of mechanisms involved and has led to a better understanding of programming and the early life causes of adult disease.
 
By experimentally inducing intrauterine growth retardation in the rat model, the offspring, although initially looking phenotypically intact, developed later progressive dysfunction of the pancreatic beta cells and showed features of human type 2 diabetes.
 
Professor Simmons has elucidated the mechanisms involved in this progressive beta cell failure by showing that it was due to mitochondrial dysfunction secondary to mutations in mitochondrial DNA resulting from oxidative damage. She has also demonstrated that some of the dysfunction is due to epigenetic changes. Progressive dysfunction was not limited to pancreatic beta cells but also occurred in the liver and the brain.
 
Professor Rebecca Simmons went beyond the description of the phenomenological effects of fetal growth retardation to unraveling the underlying mechanisms. Her findings opened up avenues for preventive and therapeutic interventions. Possible interventional strategies that can be used to prevent and treat fetal growth restriction and also prevent the long-term effects of fetal or neonatal malnutrition include providing a most appropriate maternal diet during pregnancy as well as a postnatal diet for infants.
 
In a separate line of investigation Professor Rebecca Simmons is looking at mechanisms that explain how maternal obesity during pregnancy programs offspring for obesity.
 
Professional Milestones
 
Professor Simmons has developed several research methods and model systems throughout her work:
Cell culture and animal models to study fetal programming (the effect of an abnormal in-utero environment- IUGR, obesity, diabetes-upon fetal growth and development and the later development of obesity and diabetes).
Epigenetic regulation of gene expression (DNA methylation and histone acetylation and methylation) using bisulfite sequencing and ChIP assays
Measures of Mitochondrial function-oxidative phosphorylation and electron transport chain activity.
 
Awards and Recognition
 
  • 1992 Sutherland Award for Outstanding Young Investigator, Midwest Society for Pediatric Research
  • 2000 American Diabetes Research Award 
  • 2006 William Wells Award for outstanding research in Mitochondria Biology, Michigan State University
  • 2008 Edwin Gresham Award, Indiana University School of Medicine
  • 2010 Boyd Orr Award, Royal Nutrition Society, UK
  • 2010 American Diabetes Research Award
  • 2011 Curran Award for outstanding research in fetal/neonatal medicine, University of South Florida
 
In recognition of her outstanding contributions in fetal and early neonatal programming, Prof. Rebecca Simmons is awarded the Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence for Nutrition in Neonates and Infants for the 2011-2012 term.
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