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American Diabetes Association honors Kaiser Permanente researcher with its Norbert Freinkel Award

Division of Research’s Assiamira Ferrara recognized for her leadership and scientific achievements

The American Diabetes Association’s 2019 Norbert Freinkel Award has been presented to Kaiser Permanente researcher Assiamira Ferrara, MD, PhD. Given in memory of Norbert Freinkel, a dedicated investigator and thought leader, the award honors a researcher who has made outstanding contributions to the understanding and treatment of diabetes in pregnancy.

Dr. Ferrara currently serves as associate director of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, where she leads the Women’s and Children’s Health section. Her nationally and internationally recognized research has influenced and improved the care of pregnant women with diabetes.

Assiamira Ferrara, MD, PhD. Kaiser Permanente Division of Research

“Dr. Ferrara has inspired many investigators and clinicians through her ambitious and innovative research on diabetes in pregnancy,” said Tracy Lieu, MD, MPH, director of the Division of Research. “She is a talented and beloved mentor and is a leader in our culture of excellence here in our Division of Research, and beyond.”

Dr. Ferrara’s scientific contributions include discovering a way to predict neonatal complications associated with maternal glucose levels among women, leading to the adoption of clinical guidelines for the diagnosis of gestational diabetes. She led a large trial among women with gestational diabetes, demonstrating that a lifestyle intervention beginning in pregnancy was able to reduce gestational weight gain, postpartum weight retention, and the likelihood of having a large-for-gestational age infant — all strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes in mothers or their infants. Dr. Ferrara also established a cohort of pregnant women to examine the metabolic, behavioral, and environmental determinants of gestational diabetes, now part of the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) research program, funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The author of more than 130 publications, Dr. Ferrara is one of the most prolific researchers in the field of diabetes and pregnancy. She co-edited the book, “Gestational Diabetes During and After Pregnancy,” and was one of the first scientists to document increases in the prevalence of gestational diabetes. In advocating for health systems to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of gestational diabetes, she has been instrumental in translating research into clinical practice. As a dedicated mentor, she has helped numerous early career investigators to become leaders in the field, helping to secure a pipeline of investigators devoted to studying diabetes in pregnancy.

“I am truly honored to receive this prestigious award,” Ferrara said. “Since beginning my research on the effect of diabetes in pregnancy, I have been inspired by the work of Dr. Freinkel. I am also continually inspired by the passion of my junior colleagues to improve the care of women with diabetes in pregnancy, and thus to improve the health of women and children for generations to come.”

Dr. Ferrara has served in various national and international leadership roles, including as previous chair of the American Diabetes Association’s Pregnancy and Reproductive Health Interest Group and the Scientific Sessions Planning Committee.

A native of Italy, she received her medical degree from the University of Naples and her PhD from the same university in collaboration with the University of California, San Diego. She will deliver the Norbert Freinkel Award Lecture on Sunday, June 9, at the American Diabetes Association’s annual scientific meeting in San Francisco.

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Read the ADA release here.

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