Edward Horton (Class of ’55): 50 Years of Research—and Counting

Dartmouth medical alumnus Edward Horton (class of 1955), a senior investigator at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Mass., is known worldwide for his expertise on the relationship between obesity and insulin resistance and the effects of exercise on insulin sensitivity. He’s also known as an outstanding mentor; the American Diabetes Association announced it will honor him with the 2014 Albert Renold Award for his mentorship of diabetes researchers.

The one subject area on which he seems to lack credibility is his own retirement. “I keep telling my staff that I’m going to cut back on travel and stay at home more, that I’m going to take more time off and eventually retire,” says Horton, age 81, with a chuckle. “They look at me like I’m crazy.”

In recent years, Horton has traveled to India, Iran, Malaysia, Quatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, and Turkey to share his insights from more than 50 years of research on metabolism and type II diabetes. Technically, Horton has cut his hours to 60%, but he still runs an active research lab, mentors junior faculty, and is the principal investigator or co-investigator for several large National Institutes of Health studies.

Horton, a lifelong Nordic and alpine skier, has been studying the effects of regular exercise on insulin sensitivity for decades—but not to the exclusion of other treatments. He’s investigated numerous medications, consults for pharmaceutical companies, and embraces both lifestyle and pharmaceutical interventions for preventing diabetes and minimizing its effects.

When lecturing abroad, Horton encourages his international colleagues to work with their local governments, organizations, and city planners to create communities that foster physical activity and healthy eating.  “I really focus on the lifestyle interventions and fundamentally education,” he says.

Despite the worldwide epidemic of diabetes, Horton remains hopeful.

“As we learn more about the underlying pathophysiology of the disease and we learn how to manage the dual epidemic of obesity and diabetes through lifestyle modification and education,” says Horton, “I think the trends will begin to level off and reverse.”

Given the optimism and enthusiasm Horton conveys about his work, it’s clear that he is still having fun as a Joslin researcher. And, as he said in a 2006 article in Dartmouth Medicine magazine, “as long as you are having fun, there is no sense in retiring.”