Robert Henry, M.D., world-renowned endocrinologist and mentor to generations of clinicians at UC San Diego and beyond, died Wednesday, January 1, 2020 in Del Mar, California. He was 69 years old.
Dr. Henry was Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at UC San Diego, Chief of the Section of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and Director of the Center for Metabolic Research and the Special Diagnostics and Treatment Unit.
Raised in Transcon, a small town outside Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada, Dr. Henry worked as a laborer at Manitoba Steel before deciding to pursue higher education in Pre-Medical Science at the University of Winnipeg and then Medicine at the University of Manitoba Medical School graduating in 1975. After a Residency in Internal Medicine and a Fellowship in Endocrinology at the same institution, Dr. Henry was recruited to the University of Colorado in Denver as a Visiting Assistant Professor to work on diabetes-related clinical research with Jerrold Olefsky in 1982. When the Olefsky lab relocated to UC San Diego in 1984, Henry started his long-time faculty appointment at UCSD spanning more than three decades.
Bob Henry was truly an “Academic Triple Threat” conducting ground-breaking clinical research, with patient care, and medical student, resident and fellow education. He served as President of the American Diabetes Association in 2011 and was awarded the Banting Medal for Service. He was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians on Edinburgh, and the American College of Endocrinology, and served on the boards of numerous scientific societies and journals.
Bob Henry led a highly productive research career funded by the NIH, the VA and the American Diabetes Association with over 300 publications. His interests lay in the etiology, metabolic consequences, and treatment of obesity and diabetes. He made several early and seminal contributions to our understanding of insulin resistance and muscle metabolism and the effects of weight loss and very-low carbohydrate diets. Bob used glucose clamp and tracer studies, combined with indirect calorimetry, to show that a major defect in glucose disposal in insulin resistant states was due to defective glycogen synthesis. In subsequent studies he focused on the role of glycogen synthase 3, establishing it as a component of insulin resistance and opening a new area for drug discovery. Bob’s lab was among the first to demonstrate that altered secretion of a number of myokines is an intrinsic property of skeletal muscle in type 2 diabetes, suggesting a putative role of myokines in the response of skeletal muscle to type 2 diabetes, including the reduced capillary density of muscle in diabetes. In addition to these mechanistic studies, Bob was also instrumental in running and guiding clinical trials for new classes of anti-diabetic drugs. He performed some of the early human studies with the thiazolidinediones, new insulin analogs, GLP-1 agonists and DPP-4 inhibitors, and most recently SGLT2 inhibitors. Notably, Bob was the PI on many landmark studies in the field of diabetes including the NIH Diabetes Prevention Program, the VA Diabetes Trial and the NIH-GRADE study that documented the micro and macrovascular benefits of intensive glycemic control. The national and international standing of Dr Henry contributed to the national and international recognition of the Department of Medicine and the Division of Endocrine/ Metabolism at UCSD.
As a mentor, Bob Henry was proud to teach, encourage and support generations of young clinicians. He was dedicated to the Endocrinology Fellowship Program in the School of Medicine and trained 48 fellows, including Drs. Mudaliar, Choe, Kulasa, Santos and Pettus, who continue to pursue academic careers at UCSD, as well as numerous undergraduates, medical students and junior faculty. Bob’s sense of humor, often self-deprecating, along with a warm smile and a gleam in his eyes, made others feel comfortable and welcome. This was true during hospital rounds, medical school lectures, and national and international meetings, which made him an effective and well-liked teacher and educator. Bob managed to combine optimism and enthusiasm with high standards, integrity, and fairness. To the end he remained a generous collaborator, soft-spoken and always ready to add intelligent insights to any scientific conversation.
Dr. Henry is survived by wife Denine, sons Ryan, Dustin and Daniel, daughter-in-law Tiffany, Charlotte, and grandchildren Taylor, Trevin, Brittany, Sean and Gavin.