'Rising Star' in Diabetes Field, Michaela Diamant, Dies at 51

May 02, 2014

Michaela Diamant, MD, PhD, FRCPE, a distinguished clinician scientist who led the diabetes and endocrinology department at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has died at the age of just 51.

"She was one of the rising stars of European clinical diabetology. We were deeply shocked that she died at such a young age," Viktor Jörgens, MD, executive director of European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), told Medscape Medical News.

Dr. Diamant had "a brilliant publication record" and "was one of the most prominent young clinical researchers in Europe, with a worldwide impact," he added. "She would have been a candidate one day for president of the EASD."

"It's extremely sad that she has passed away at the peak of her career," said Robert J. Heine, MD, PhD, FRCP, vice president, medical affairs, Lilly Diabetes, in Indianapolis, Indiana, her mentor and long-time friend, who first met Dr. Diamant when she joined him at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. Dr Heine was head of the diabetes department, a role she took over from him when he left to join Lilly in the United States.

Dr. Michaela Diamant

Dr. Heine, who spoke at Dr. Diamant's funeral service in mid-April, also painted a more personal picture of her for Medscape Medical News: that of a woman who excelled despite a challenging upbringing but who was an extremely private person.

"Michaela was very straight-to-the point and hated hypocrisy," he said. "She was extremely challenging to people who were less capable than she was, and she didn't shy away from debate," a characteristic that some people found difficult to handle. But this meant she enjoyed her international roles immensely, he explained, because then she encountered "people who were like she was, who enjoyed a good scientific debate."

A Scientist First and Foremost

Dr. Michaela Diamant served on the advisory board for Medscape Diabetes & Endocrinology and was an active member of many diabetes organizations.

She was awarded a fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh) in 2011 and was a member of the Dutch Diabetes Research Association, the EASD, and the American Diabetes Association (ADA). She worked as an associate editor for Diabetologia between 2005 and 2009 and continued on the advisory board from 2010 to 2011. She was also involved in numerous program- and abstract-review committees and was on the organizing committee for the EASD meeting in Amsterdam in 2007.

She contributed to the most recent EASD/ADA guidelines for the management of hyperglycemia in type 2 diabetes and to the development and implementation of the Dutch diabetes guidelines.

"She had a very challenging youth, but she was extremely intelligent, with innovative ideas, and found her way in the Dutch academic environment," Dr. Heine noted.

Dr. Diamant obtained her MD in 1987 from Leiden University and her PhD in 1991 from the University of Utrecht. She trained in internal medicine and was also certified in nephrology and endocrinology. She joined the VU University Medical Center under Dr. Heine in 2000 and succeeded him in 2008 when he left to join Lilly.

She was, says Dr. Heine, first and foremost a scientist.

"Her passion was clinical research, more so than patient care," he observed. But "she loved interaction with patients, because then she better understood their unmet needs, and she translated this into her research; she was always busy thinking about 'how can we do this in a better way?' "

But a Patient, Not a Doctor, When It Came to Cancer

This attention to detail continued on the diagnosis of Michaela Diamant's cancer, said Dr. Heine. She very much wanted to be "the patient, not the expert," he noted.

One of her major worries was that if people knew she was ill, "she wouldn't get her research grants," he added. "So she didn't talk about it and no one knew, except her direct family and maybe 1 or 2 friends."

A Professional to the End

"But her intent was not to share her vulnerability in order to protect her PhD students, whom she considered as her 'kids,' " he added. "She worked until a few days before her death: she left extensive instructions for her PhD students and made sure that I became the new mentor for her successor."

Dr. Heine and other colleagues have also published an obituary in Diabetologia.

"Diabetes care and research has lost an ardent and visionary leader whose goal in life was to understand the pathophysiology of diabetes and to develop novel therapeutic approaches to combat hyperglycemia," they write.

"She achieved this in part through collaborations with equally passionate friends and colleagues both nationally and internationally. She was a great mentor for her young colleagues and a wonderful collaborator and friend to many in Europe and around the world. We will dearly miss her."

Diabetologia. In Memoriam


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