December 2009

Burnham Institute Touches Down in Orlando

Steven Smith and Stephen Gardell

Burnham Institute researchers Steven R. Smith (left), director of the Florida Hospital-Burnham Institute Translational Research Institute, and Stephen Gardell, director of Burnham’s translational research resources, both will be instrumental in fulfilling the institute’s aims of pushing its fundamental discoveries toward clinical and industrial utility.

Speaking of bedsides, Gardell will work closely with Steven R. Smith, a trained endocrinologist who was hired by Burnham in a joint appointment with Florida Hospital. When he’s not in lab studying genetic and epigenetic changes that may alter muscle metabolism, Smith heads the Florida Hospital-Burnham Institute Translational Research Institute. The TRI, which will also soon have its own state-of-the-art building, employs clinical scientists conducting patient-oriented research who will work closely with Burnham to apply their work back to basic research. Smith envisions that, just like him, some other TRI researchers will have joint labs at Burnham, thus making the collaboration even more intertwined.

Such collaboration will be essential because, in choosing diabetes and obesity as its research focus, Burnham at Lake Nona has taken up quite a challenge. As Smith discusses his clinical work, he points to a graph of obesity trends, and the hockey-stick like rise seen over the past decade. Diabetes rates have not yet advanced that high, but Smith notes somberly, “Diabetes usually follows obesity by about 10 years.”

And diabetes is no simple beast: “You can find as many theories about the mechanisms underlying insulin resistance as you have labs working on it,” Wood says, adding, “Just look at cholesterol problems by comparison, where statin drugs are highly effective. We have no statin equivalent in diabetes; after all these years, the best treatment is still diet and exercise.”

If anyone’s up to the challenge of changing that, it may be the Burnham. “We’ve got a great institute that’s focused on a core set of principles, where everyone loves to get together and talk about ideas,” Smith says. “I’m optimistic we’ll get some good things done.”

Nick Zagorski ( is a science writer at ASBMB.


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