Peter Amenta ’75

Photo: Joslin Diabetes Center

DEGREES: B.S. in biology; M.S., M.D., Ph.D., residency in pathology, Hahnemann University; board certified anatomic and clinical pathologist

JOB TITLE: President and chief executive officer of the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, the world’s largest, most comprehensive diabetes center

FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: Meeting President Theodore D. Lockwood on my matriculation was a memory that stays with me. I have applied this approach to my own leadership positions by personally introducing myself to incoming colleagues.

What do you do in a typical day at Joslin? Joslin has a singular focus on diabetes, its treatment and ultimately its cure. The position as CEO requires attending to all of our divisions: research, clinical care, R&D (research and development), and education, specifically with close oversight of financial issues including our philanthropy efforts. I am fortunate also to be able to apply my experience as a pathologist to contribute to our scientific programs.

What do you enjoy most about your work? Working with and leading a remarkably dedicated team of scientists, clinicians, and staff focused on the care and treatment of diabetes—the pandemic of our time. Every day, substantive advances are made in our research labs that can enhance the excellent care and treatment provided in our clinic and throughout the world. Our patients are equally a source of tremendous inspiration to us at Joslin. Their courage in facing this very difficult chronic disease and their support of Joslin are a great source of encouragement. I also greatly enjoy the collaborative opportunities available with Harvard Medical School and its other world-renowned affiliates.

What are the biggest challenges you face? The biggest challenge is the sense of urgency addressing this complex disease. By 2050, it is projected that diabetes will affect one out of every three Americans, and 650 million people worldwide, if left unabated. Founded by Elliott P. Joslin, M.D., the center is marking its 120th anniversary this year. It has been central to the fight against diabetes since its inception. Ensuring that Joslin is able to continue its seminal advances into the future is also a major challenge we deal with on a daily basis.

What would you tell someone with diabetes about the hope for a cure? I would tell them that we get closer to a cure every day by applying modern scientific tools and cellular engineering, which just a few years ago existed only in our imaginations. We are making great strides in cell-based therapies, working with Harvard Stem Cell Institute and other Harvard affiliates to develop the ability to transplant autologous insulin-producing beta cells. Professor Doug Melton and other collaborators are able to generate a limitless number of stem cells that are derived from mature blood or tissue cells from each specific patient. Those same stem cells can then be used to manufacture insulin-producing beta cells available for transplant back into that same patient, with the potential to assist in treating both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. For patients with type 1 diabetes, we also are now addressing ways to impede the autoimmune response, which destroys the beta cells in those patients. Within the next two years, we are hoping to begin transplantation of a patient’s own beta cells in those patients whose diabetes resulted from surgical removal of their pancreas.

How did your experience at Trinity help prepare you for what you do now? It was critical in developing both a scientific foundation for medical school and my interest in research. There were so many excellent professors who contributed to my overall education in science and also prepared me for the challenges of life.

Was there a professor who was particularly influential? Frank Child was a great teacher and even finer man. He had a great love of science, and he introduced me to some of the most elegant scientific work of a wonderful scientist, Noël de Terra, who became my master’s program director.

What was the most memorable course you took at Trinity? “The History of the Roman Empire” taught by Eugene Davis was my favorite course. He could place you right in the middle of a battlefield, describing the politics of the time, the location of the armies, the terrain they held, their weaponry and strategy. I signed up for just about every course he taught. I’ve always tried to follow his example in my teaching efforts by using actual clinical cases to teach complex pathologic concepts.