Type 2 Diabetes Research At-a-Glance

The ADA is committed to continuing progress in the fight against type 2 diabetes by funding research, including support for potential new treatments, a better understating of genetic factors, addressing disparities, and more. For specific examples of projects currently funded by the ADA, see below.

Greg J. Morton, PhD

University of Washington

Project: Neurocircuits regulating glucose homeostasis

“The health consequences of diabetes can be devastating, and new treatments and therapies are needed. My research career has focused on understanding how blood sugar levels are regulated and what contributes to the development of diabetes. This research will provide insights into the role of the brain in the control of blood sugar levels and has potential to facilitate the development of novel approaches to diabetes treatment.”

The problem: Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is among the most pressing and costly medical challenges confronting modern society. Even with currently available therapies, the control and management of blood sugar levels remains a challenge in T2D patients and can thereby increase the risk of diabetes-related complications. Continued progress with newer, better therapies is needed to help people with T2D.

The project: Humans have special cells, called brown fat cells, which generate heat to maintain optimal body temperature. Dr. Morton has found that these cells use large amounts of glucose to drive this heat production, thus serving as a potential way to lower blood sugar, a key goal for any diabetes treatment. Dr. Morton is working to understand what role the brain plays in turning these brown fat cells on and off.

The potential outcome: This work has the potential to fundamentally advance our understanding of how the brain regulates blood sugar levels and to identify novel targets for the treatment of T2D.

Tracey Lynn McLaughlin, MD

Stanford University

Project: Role of altered nutrient transit and incretin hormones in glucose lowering after Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery

“This award is very important to me personally not only because the enteroinsular axis (gut-insulin-glucose metabolism) is a new kid on the block that requires rigorous physiologic studies in humans to better understand how it contributes to glucose metabolism, but also because the subjects who develop severe hypoglycemia after gastric bypass are largely ignored in society and there is no treatment for this devastating and very dangerous condition.”

The problem: Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) surgery is the single-most effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, with persistent remission in 85% of cases. However, the underlying ways by which the surgery improves glucose control is not yet understood, limiting the ability to potentially mimic the surgery in a non-invasive way. Furthermore, a minority of RYGB patients develop severe, disabling, and life-threatening low-blood sugar, for which there is no current treatment.

The project: Utilizing a unique and rigorous human experimental model, the proposed research will attempt to gain a better understanding on how RYGB surgery improves glucose control. Dr. McLaughlin will also test a hypothesis which she believes could play an important role in the persistent low-blood sugar that is observed in some patients post-surgery.

The potential outcome: This research has the potential to identify novel molecules that could represent targets for new antidiabetic therapies. It is also an important step to identifying people at risk for low-blood sugar following RYGB and to develop postsurgical treatment strategies.

Rebekah J. Walker, PhD

Medical College of Wisconsin

Project: Lowering the impact of food insecurity in African Americans with type 2 diabetes

“I became interested in diabetes research during my doctoral training, and since that time have become passionate about addressing social determinants of health and health disparities, specifically in individuals with diabetes. Living in one of the most racially segregated cities in the nation, the burden to address the needs of individuals at particularly high risk of poor outcomes has become important to me both personally and professionally.”

The problem: Food insecurity is defined as the inability to or limitation in accessing nutritionally adequate food and may be one way to address increased diabetes risk in high-risk populations. Food insecure individuals with diabetes have worse diabetes outcomes and have more difficulty following a healthy diet compared to those who are not food insecure.

The project: Dr. Walker’s study will gather information to improve and then will test an intervention to improve blood sugar control, dietary intake, self-care management, and quality of life in food insecure African Americans with diabetes. The intervention will include weekly culturally appropriate food boxes mailed to the participants and telephone-delivered diabetes education and skills training. It will be one of the first studies focused on the unique needs of food insecure African American populations with diabetes using culturally tailored strategies.

The potential outcome: This study has the potential to guide and improve policies impacting low-income minorities with diabetes. In addition, Dr. Walker’s study will help determine if food supplementation is important in improving diabetes outcomes beyond diabetes education alone.