Recent Advances

ADA-funded researchers use the money from their awards to conduct critical diabetes research. In time, they publish their findings in order to inform fellow scientists of their results, which ensures that others will build upon their work. Ultimately, this cycle drives advances to prevent diabetes and to help people burdened by it. In 2018 alone, ADA-funded scientists published over 200 articles related to their awards!

Identification of a new player in type 1 diabetes risk

Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune attack of insulin-producing beta-cells. While genetics and the environment are known to play important roles, the underlying factors explaining why the immune system mistakenly recognize beta-cells as foreign is not known. Now, Dr. Delong has discovered a potential explanation. He found that proteins called Hybrid Insulin Peptides (HIPs) are found on beta-cells of people with type 1 diabetes and are recognized as foreign by their immune cells. Even after diabetes onset, immune cells are still present in the blood that attack these HIPs.

Next, Dr. Delong wants to determine if HIPs can serve as a biomarker or possibly even targeted to prevent or treat type 1 diabetes.
Baker, R. L., Rihanek, M., Hohenstein, A. C., Nakayama, M., Michels, A., Gottlieb, P. A., Haskins, K., & Delong, T. (2019). Hybrid Insulin Peptides Are Autoantigens in Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes, 68(9), 1830–1840.

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Understanding the biology of body-weight regulation in children

Determining the biological mechanisms regulating body-weight is important for preventing type 2 diabetes. The rise in childhood obesity has made this even more urgent. Behavioral studies have demonstrated that responses to food consumption are altered in children with obesity, but the underlying biological mechanisms are unknown. This year, Dr. Schur tested changes in brain and hormonal responses to a meal in normal-weight and obese children. Results from her study show that hormonal responses in obese children are normal following a meal, but responses within the brain are reduced. The lack of response within the brain may predispose them to overconsumption of food or difficulty with weight-loss.

With this information at hand, Dr. Schur wants to investigate how this information can be used to treat obesity in children and reduce diabetes.

Roth, C. L., Melhorn, S. J., Elfers, C. T., Scholz, K., De Leon, M. R. B., Rowland, M., Kearns, S., Aylward, E., Grabowski, T. J., Saelens, B. E., & Schur, E. A. (2019). Central Nervous System and Peripheral Hormone Responses to a Meal in Children. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 104(5), 1471–1483.

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A novel molecule to improve continuous glucose monitoring

To create a fully automated artificial pancreas, it is critical to be able to quantify blood glucose in an accurate and stable manner. Current ways of continuously monitoring glucose are dependent on the activity of an enzyme which can change over time, meaning the potential for inaccurate readings and need for frequent replacement or calibration. Dr. Wang has developed a novel molecule that uses a different, non-enzymatic approach to continuously monitor glucose levels in the blood. This new molecule is stable over long periods of time and can be easily integrated into miniaturized systems.

Now, Dr. Wang is in the process of patenting his invention and intends to continue research on this new molecule so that it can eventually benefit people living with diabetes.

Wang, B., Chou, K.-H., Queenan, B. N., Pennathur, S., & Bazan, G. C. (2019). Molecular Design of a New Diboronic Acid for the Electrohydrodynamic Monitoring of Glucose. Angewandte Chemie (International Ed. in English), 58(31), 10612–10615.

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Addressing the legacy effect of diabetes

Several large clinical trials have demonstrated the importance of tight glucose control for reducing diabetes complications. However, few studies to date have tested this in the real-world, outside of a controlled clinical setting. In a study published this year, Dr. Laiteerapong found that indeed in a real-world setting, people with lower hemoglobin A1C levels after diagnosis had significantly lower vascular complications later on, a phenomenon known as the ‘legacy effect’ of glucose control. Her research noted the importance of early intervention for the best outcomes, as those with the low A1C levels just one-year after diagnosis had significantly lower vascular disease risk compared to people with higher A1C levels.

With these findings in hand, physicians and policymakers will have more material to debate and determine the best course of action for improving outcomes in people newly diagnosed with diabetes.

Laiteerapong, N., Ham, S. A., Gao, Y., Moffet, H. H., Liu, J. Y., Huang, E. S., & Karter, A. J. (2019). The Legacy Effect in Type 2 Diabetes: Impact of Early Glycemic Control on Future Complications (The Diabetes & Aging Study). Diabetes Care, 42(3), 416–426.

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A new way to prevent immune cells from attacking insulin-producing beta-cells

Replacing insulin-producing beta-cells that have been lost in people with type 1 diabetes is a promising strategy to restore control of glucose levels. However, because the autoimmune disease is a continuous process, replacing beta-cells results in another immune attack if immunosorbent drugs are not used, which carry significant side-effects. This year, Dr. Song reported on the potential of an immunotherapy he developed that prevents immune cells from attacking beta-cells and reduces inflammatory processes. This immunotherapy offers several potential benefits, including eliminating the need for immunosuppression, long-lasting effects, and the ability to customize the treatment to each patient.

The ability to suppress autoimmunity has implications for both prevention of type 1 diabetes and improving success rates of islet transplantation.

Haque, M., Lei, F., Xiong, X., Das, J. K., Ren, X., Fang, D., Salek-Ardakani, S., Yang, J.-M., & Song, J. (2019). Stem cell-derived tissue-associated regulatory T cells suppress the activity of pathogenic cells in autoimmune diabetes. JCI Insight, 4(7).

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A new target to improve insulin sensitivity

The hormone insulin normally acts like a ‘key’, traveling through the blood and opening the cellular ‘lock’ to enable the entry of glucose into muscle and fat cells. However, in people with type 2 diabetes, the lock on the cellular door has, in effect, been changed, meaning insulin isn’t as effective. This phenomenon is called insulin resistance. Scientists have long sought to understand what causes insulin resistance and develop therapies to enable insulin to work correctly again. This year, Dr. Summers determined an essential role for a molecule called ceramides as a driver of insulin resistance in mice. He also presented a new therapeutic strategy for lowering ceramides and reversing insulin resistance. His findings were published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals, Science.

Soon, Dr. Summers and his team will attempt to validate these findings in humans, with the ultimate goal of developing a new medication to help improve outcomes in people with diabetes.

Chaurasia, B., Tippetts, T. S., Mayoral Monibas, R., Liu, J., Li, Y., Wang, L., Wilkerson, J. L., Sweeney, C. R., Pereira, R. F., Sumida, D. H., Maschek, J. A., Cox, J. E., Kaddai, V., Lancaster, G. I., Siddique, M. M., Poss, A., Pearson, M., Satapati, S., Zhou, H., … Summers, S. A. (2019). Targeting a ceramide double bond improves insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis. Science (New York, N.Y.), 365(6451), 386–392.

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Determining the role of BPA in type 2 diabetes risk

Many synthetic chemicals have infiltrated our food system during the period in which rates of diabetes has surged. Data has suggested that one particular synthetic chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), may be associated with increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. However, no study to date has determined whether consumption of BPA alters the progression to type 2 diabetes in humans. Results reported this year by Dr. Hagobian demonstrated that indeed when BPA is administered to humans in a controlled manner, there is an immediate, direct effect on glucose and insulin levels.

Now, Dr. Hagobian wants to conduct a larger clinical trial including exposure to BPA over a longer period of time to determine precisely how BPA influences glucose and insulin. Such results are important to ensure the removal of chemicals contributing to chronic diseases, including diabetes.

Hagobian, T. A., Bird, A., Stanelle, S., Williams, D., Schaffner, A., & Phelan, S. (2019). Pilot Study on the Effect of Orally Administered Bisphenol A on Glucose and Insulin Response in Nonobese Adults. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 3(3), 643–654.

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Investigating the loss of postmenopausal protection from cardiovascular disease in women with type 1 diabetes

On average, women have a lower risk of developing heart disease compared to men. However, research has shown that this protection is lost in women with type 1 diabetes. The process of menopause increases rates of heart disease in women, but it is not known how menopause affects women with type 1 diabetes in regard to risk for developing heart disease. In a study published this year, Dr. Snell-Bergeon found that menopause increased risk markers for heart disease in women with type 1 diabetes more than women without diabetes.

Research has led to improved treatments and significant gains in life expectancy for people with diabetes and, as a result, many more women are reaching the age of menopause. Future research is needed to address prevention and treatment options.

Keshawarz, A., Pyle, L., Alman, A., Sassano, C., Westfeldt, E., Sippl, R., & Snell-Bergeon, J. (2019). Type 1 Diabetes Accelerates Progression of Coronary Artery Calcium Over the Menopausal Transition: The CACTI Study. Diabetes Care, 42(12), 2315–2321.

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Identification of a potential therapy for diabetic neuropathy related to type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that is one of the most common complications affecting people with diabetes. For some, neuropathy can be mild, but for others, it can be painful and debilitating. Additionally, neuropathy can affect the spinal cord and the brain. Effective clinical treatments for neuropathy are currently lacking. Recently, Dr. Calcutt reported results of a new potential therapy that could bring hope to the millions of people living with diabetic neuropathy. His study found that a molecule currently in clinical trials for the treatment of depression may be valuable for diabetic neuropathy, particularly the type affecting the brain.

Because the molecule is already in clinical trials, there is the potential that it can benefit patients sooner than later.

Jolivalt, C. G., Marquez, A., Quach, D., Navarro Diaz, M. C., Anaya, C., Kifle, B., Muttalib, N., Sanchez, G., Guernsey, L., Hefferan, M., Smith, D. R., Fernyhough, P., Johe, K., & Calcutt, N. A. (2019). Amelioration of Both Central and Peripheral Neuropathy in Mouse Models of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes by the Neurogenic Molecule NSI-189. Diabetes, 68(11), 2143–2154.

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ADA-funded researcher studying link between ageing and type 2 diabetes

One of the most important risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes is age. As a person gets older, their risk for developing type 2 diabetes increases. Scientists want to better understand the relationship between ageing and diabetes in order to determine out how to best prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. ADA-funded researcher Rafael Arrojo e Drigo, PhD, from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is one of those scientists working hard to solve this puzzle.

Recently, Dr. Arrojo e Drigo published results from his research in the journal Cell Metabolism. The goal of this specific study was to use high-powered microscopes and novel cellular imaging tools to determine the ‘age’ of different cells that reside in organs that control glucose levels, including the brain, liver and pancreas. He found that, in mice, the cells that make insulin in the pancreas – called beta-cells – were a mosaic of both old and young cells. Some beta-cells appeared to be as old as the animal itself, and some were determined to be much younger, indicating they recently underwent cell division.

Insufficient insulin production by beta-cells is known to be a cause of type 2 diabetes. One reason for this is thought to be fewer numbers of functional beta-cells. Dr. Arrojo e Drigo believes that people with or at risk for diabetes may have fewer ‘young’ beta-cells, which are likely to function better than old ones. Alternatively, if we can figure out how to induce the production of younger, high-functioning beta-cells in the pancreas, it could be a potential treatment for people with diabetes.

In the near future, Dr. Arrojo e Drigo’s wants to figure out how to apply this research to humans. “The next step is to look for molecular or morphological features that would allow us to distinguish a young cell from and old cell,” Dr. Arrojo e Drigo said.

The results from this research are expected to provide a unique insight into the life-cycle of beta-cells and pave the way to novel therapeutic avenues for type 2 diabetes.

Watch a video of Dr. Arrojo e Drigo explaining his research!

Arrojo E Drigo, R., Lev-Ram, V., Tyagi, S., Ramachandra, R., Deerinck, T., Bushong, E., … Hetzer, M. W. (2019). Age Mosaicism across Multiple Scales in Adult Tissues. Cell Metabolism, 30(2), 343-351.e3.

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Researcher identifies potential underlying cause of type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly recognizes insulin-producing beta-cells as foreign and attacks them. The result is insulin deficiency due to the destruction of the beta-cells. Thankfully, this previously life-threatening condition can be managed through glucose monitoring and insulin administration. Still, therapies designed to address the underlying immunological cause of type 1 diabetes remain unavailable.

Conventional approaches have focused on suppressing the immune system, which has serious side effects and has been mostly unsuccessful. The American Diabetes Association recently awarded a grant to Dr. Kenneth Brayman, who proposed to take a different approach. What if instead of suppressing the whole immune system, we boost regulatory aspects that already exist in the system, thereby reigning in inappropriate immune cell activation and preventing beta-cell destruction? His idea focused on a molecule called immunoglobulin M (IgM), which is responsible for limiting inflammation and regulating immune cell development.

In a paper published in the journal Diabetes, Dr. Brayman and a team of researchers reported exciting findings related to this approach. They found that supplementing IgM obtained from healthy mice into mice with type 1 diabetes selectively reduced the amount of autoreactive immune cells known to target beta-cells for destruction. Amazingly, this resulted in reversal of new-onset diabetes. Importantly, the authors of the study determined this therapy is translatable to humans. IgM isolated from healthy human donors also prevented the development of type 1 diabetes in a humanized mouse model of type 1 diabetes.

The scientists tweaked the original experiment by isolating IgM from mice prone to developing type 1 diabetes, but before it actually occurred. When mice with newly onset diabetes were supplemented with this IgM, their diabetes was not reversed. This finding suggests that in type 1 diabetes, IgM loses its capacity to serve as a regulator of immune cells, which may be contribute to the underlying cause of the disease.

Future studies will determine exactly how IgM changes its regulatory properties to enable diabetes development. Identification of the most biologically optimal IgM will facilitate transition to clinical applications of IgM as a potential therapeutic for people with type 1 diabetes.    Wilson, C. S., Chhabra, P., Marshall, A. F., Morr, C. V., Stocks, B. T., Hoopes, E. M., Bonami, R.H., Poffenberger, G., Brayman, K.L., Moore, D. J. (2018). Healthy Donor Polyclonal IgM’s Diminish B Lymphocyte Autoreactivity, Enhance Treg Generation, and Reverse T1D in NOD Mice. Diabetes.

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ADA-funded researcher designs community program to help all people tackle diabetes

Diabetes self-management and support programs are important adjuncts to traditional physician directed treatment. These community-based programs aim to give people with diabetes the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively self-manage their condition. While several clinical trials have demonstrated the value of diabetes self-management programs in terms of improving glucose control and reducing health-care costs, whether this also occurs in implemented programs outside a controlled setting is unclear, particularly in socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

Lack of infrastructure and manpower are often cited as barriers to implementation of these programs in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. ADA-funded researcher Dr. Briana Mezuk addressed this challenge in a study recently published in The Diabetes Educator. Dr. Mezuk partnered with the YMCA to evaluate the impact of the Diabetes Control Program in Richmond, Virginia. This community-academic partnership enabled both implementation and evaluation of the Diabetes Control Program in socially disadvantaged communities, who are at higher risk for developing diabetes and the complications that accompany it.

Dr. Mezuk had two primary research questions: (1) What is the geographic and demographic reach of the program? and (2) Is the program effective at improving diabetes management and health outcomes in participants? Over a 12-week study period, Dr. Mezuk found that there was broad geographic and demographic participation in the program. The program had participants from urban, suburban and rural areas, most of which came from lower-income zip codes. HbA1C, mental health and self-management behaviors all improved in people taking part in the Greater Richmond Diabetes Control Program. Results from this study demonstrate the value of diabetes self-management programs and their potential to broadly improve health outcomes in socioeconomically diverse communities. Potential exists for community-based programs to address the widespread issue of outcome disparities related to diabetes.  Mezuk, B., Thornton, W., Sealy-Jefferson, S., Montgomery, J., Smith, J., Lexima, E., … Concha, J. B. (2018). Successfully Managing Diabetes in a Community Setting: Evidence from the YMCA of Greater Richmond Diabetes Control Program. The Diabetes Educator, 44(4), 383–394.

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Using incentives to stimulate behavior changes in youth at risk for developing diabetes

Once referred to as ‘adult-onset diabetes’, incidence of type 2 diabetes is now rapidly increasing in America’s youth. Unfortunately, children often do not have the ability to understand how everyday choices impact their health. Could there be a way to change a child’s eating behaviors? Davene Wright, PhD, of Seattle Children’s Hospital was granted an Innovative Clinical or Translational Science award to determine whether using incentives, directed by parents, can improve behaviors related to diabetes risk. A study published this year in Preventive Medicine Reports outlined what incentives were most desirable and feasible to implement. A key finding was that incentives should be tied to behavior changes and not to changes in body-weight.

With this information in hand, Dr. Wright now wants to see if incentives do indeed change a child’s eating habits and risk for developing type 2 diabetes. She is also planning to test whether an incentive program can improve behavior related to diabetes management in youth with type 1 diabetes. Jacob-Files, E., Powell, J., & Wright, D. R. (2018). Exploring parent attitudes around using incentives to promote engagement in family-based weight management programs. Preventive Medicine Reports, 10, 278–284.

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Determining the genetic risk for gestational diabetes

Research has identified more than 100 genetic variants linked to risk for developing type 2 diabetes in humans. However, the extent to which these same genetic variants might affect a woman’s probability for getting gestational diabetes has not been investigated.

Pathway to Stop Diabetes® Accelerator awardee Marie-France Hivert, MD, of Harvard University set out to answer this critical question. Dr. Hivert found that indeed genetic determinants of type 2 diabetes outside of pregnancy are also strong risk factors for gestational diabetes. This study was published in the journal Diabetes.

The implications? Because of this finding, doctors in the clinic may soon be able to identify women at risk for getting gestational diabetes and take proactive steps to prevent it. Powe, C. E., Nodzenski, M., Talbot, O., Allard, C., Briggs, C., Leya, M. V., … Hivert, M.-F. (2018). Genetic Determinants of Glycemic Traits and the Risk of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes, 67(12), 2703–2709.

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