Piecing together the diabetes puzzle

Dr. Jarrad Scarlett

Dr. Jarrad Scarlett selected as winner of 2018 Early Career Achievement Award

May 14, 2018

Story by Todd Murphy, photo by David Wakeling 

A recurring goal of 41-year-old physician-scientist Dr. Jarrad Scarlett – an extraordinary diabetes researcher at a still-young age – is working with a team to solve complicated puzzles that have significant impact on human health. His career, which includes time as a pediatric gastroenterologist, has also been about something that is both smaller and larger at the same time.

"Research projects don't send me emails at 11 o'clock at night asking for advice or invitations to graduation ceremonies," he said. "Sharing in the medical and personal successes – and failures – of my patients creates a type of bond that one can't find in any grant or manuscript."

"I truly value and cherish the connection that I get to have with patients and their parents – seeing the positive impact that I'm able to have in their lives, to help them grow to understand their disease and to be there step by step as they grow … it's a reward that can't fully be put into words."

Dr. Scarlett is currently an assistant professor and scientist at the University of Washington and a pediatric gastroenterologist at Seattle Children's Hospital. His research focuses on how the brain and gastrointestinal system interact to regulate glucose and energy homeostasis. In 2016, he and his research team authored a study published in Nature Medicine that detailed how an injection of a particular protein caused the remission of diabetes in a mouse. The research was a major advance in the quest to more effectively treat, or even cure, diabetes.

Mentor Dr. Robert Steiner, a noted neuroendocrinology researcher at UW, called Dr. Scarlett's latest research"arguably paradigm-shifting."

Being a top-flight medical researcher while also seeing patients is demanding, Dr. Scarlett said. Although officially his time is apportioned 75 percent to research and 25 percent to clinical care, he said, only half joking, it's more like 100 percent to research and 30 percent to clinical care. However, it's more than worth it. "I have a passion for both and find [both] to be rewarding," he said.