Today is World Health Day, and the World Health Organization is putting the spotlight on diabetes, a national and global health threat that continues to affect 350 million people worldwide.
As previously featured on Breakthroughs, City of Hope has long been committed to combating the disease, and over the past four decades has scored many successes, from research that led to the development of synthetic human insulin – still used by millions of patients – to potentially lifesaving islet cell transplants. Diabetes researchers here continue to push forward in the fields of epigenetics, immunology, developmental biology, translational medicine, obesity, nutrition and metabolism.
Here is a look at some of the latest research advancements:
New, targeted therapies
With the opening of the Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute at City of Hope, and recent breakthroughs in the promising area of islet cell therapy, City of Hope is continuing its longstanding mission to fight the disease. Scientists are working on the genetic and molecular mechanisms that cause diabetes, studying the relationship between diabetes and cancer, and developing targeted therapies to stop the disease.
For Gina Marchini, a 33-year-old kindergarten teacher from Palmer, Alaska, City of Hope’s groundbreaking research means that for the first time in 24 years, she is living insulin-free. Just hours after an islet cell transplant, her blood glucose results were at normal levels. She recently shared her remarkable story on an episode of “The Doctors.”
City of Hope’s work in diabetes continues to receive support.
The National Institutes of Health recently gave a $2.2 million grant to Rama Natarajan, Ph.D, chair of the Department of Diabetes Complications and Metabolism within the Diabetes and Metabolism Research Institute. The three-year grant allows Natarajan, the National Business Products Industry Professor in Diabetes Research, and her team to investigate the role of ‘metabolic memory’ in diabetes complications.
Looking to the future
Looking to once again revolutionize how diabetes is treated, City of Hope is developing an analytic tool to harness the power of algorithms to craft individualized treatment plans. Using multiple data points to generate a model of how each patient’s body uses glucose will allow doctors to craft comprehensive treatment plans with ongoing feedback on medication, diet and exercise.
In the laboratory of Janice Huss, Ph.D., researchers are studying how the insulin-responsive tissue reacts to changes in diet and exercise. The goal is to determine whether a new class of drugs will be able to prevent diet-induced obesity, or mimic the beneficial effects of exercise on whole body glucose control.
Can a plant help cells in diabetes patients become more sensitive to insulin? That’s what Wendong Huang, Ph.D., is exploring as he and his colleagues investigate the properties of berberine, a chemical derivative of the barberry plant.
Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D, is developing the real-time imaging of islet cells, which will allow doctors to use a radiolabeled protein to monitor the survival and function of islet cells after a transplant. Not only will this type of imaging help ensure survival of a new graft, it will also make it possible to monitor the native islet cells in patients newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
With research into new therapies, work on fighting diabetes complications, the development of gene- and cell-based therapies, and continuing diabetes education, City of Hope continues to be one of the most influential diabetes research programs in the world.
The family of SNARE proteins are an essential part of the body’s complex transport system, helping to regulate diverse biological processes. Thurmond investigates the role that certain members of that family play in metabolism — research that has the potential to result in new therapies for type 1 d
For nearly 50 years, scientists who have made major advances in the understanding and treatment of diabetes have called City of Hope home. Building on past milestones, as well as the institution’s acute understanding of the role of the immune system in cancer, investigators work on an integrated app