1. Home
  2. News
  3. News Archive
  4. Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Diabetes Research Centers

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Diabetes Research Centers

The year 2023 marked the 50th anniversary of the NIDDK-supported Diabetes Research Centers that have transformed the field of diabetes research. The Diabetes Research Centers are part of an integrated program of diabetes and related endocrinology and metabolism research and one of NIDDK’s longest running programs. Toward the goal of developing new methods to treat, prevent, and ultimately cure diabetes and its complications, the Centers program supports research institutions with an established existing base of high-quality, diabetes-related research; provides increased, cost-effective collaboration among multidisciplinary groups of investigators; and provides shared access to specialized technical resources and expertise. The Centers are structured around an administrative core with an enrichment program, biomedical research cores, and a pilot and feasibility program to encourage early-stage investigators and researchers new to diabetes.

It all started with the vision, prescience, and advocacy of Dr. Robert H. Williams, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. In the early 1970s, Dr. Williams convinced his friend and patient Senator Warren G. Magnuson that diabetes research should be done via a multidisciplinary approach. Senator Magnuson liked this idea and championed establishment of the first Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center at Vanderbilt University in 1973. Since then, the program has grown to support Research Centers at 17 different institutions across the country.

One of the major contributions made by Diabetes Research Centers is the landmark Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) that launched in 1983. DCCT, along with its follow-up study that started in 1994, called the Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications (EDIC) study, showed that early and intensive blood glucose (sugar) control lowered the risk for type 1 diabetes complications, including diabetic eye disease, cardiovascular events, kidney disease, and nerve damage. These results transformed the way type 1 diabetes is managed, and researchers continue to learn from DCCT/EDIC participants today. More than four decades later, most of the living, original DCCT participants still contribute to the EDIC study.

In more recent years, Diabetes Research Centers have contributed knowledge to a variety of areas. Some examples include investigating mechanisms by which a recently approved drug, teplizumab, can delay the onset of type 1 diabetes in individuals at high risk; revealing how time-restricted feeding can mitigate obesity in mice or how circadian disruption may contribute to metabolic disease; discovering the metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune changes that occur at the molecular level following acute physical activity; identifying risk factors for diabetic nerve disease in DCCT/EDIC participants; and finding association between worse health outcomes in people admitted with COVID-19 and high blood glucose levels. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number and importance of publications that have come out of Diabetes Research Centers continued unabated.

The Centers have also been successful at leveraging their expertise and resources for the greater good of the research community, especially when there are other NIDDK-supported Centers nearby. For instance, the Centers have been able to increase synergy through the Centers for Diabetes Translation Research, and in 2022, NIDDK began a program studying cystic fibrosis-related diabetes through the Cystic Fibrosis Centers utilizing diabetes expertise at Diabetes Research Centers. The Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Centers-Live is another program that collaborates with many Diabetes Research Centers to provide experimental testing services to scientists studying mouse models of diabetes, obesity, diabetic complications, and other metabolic diseases. Lastly, the Medical Student Research Program in Diabetes and Obesity supports summer research opportunities for medical students at one of the current Diabetes Research Centers with the goals of encouraging medical students to pursue research and diversifying the diabetes research workforce.

Diabetes research has come a long way since the Diabetes Research Centers were created 50 years ago. While the goal of the Centers remains the same, the Centers will embrace opportunities to incorporate new areas of science, to increase synergy and better leverage resources across the program and with other NIDDK Centers and programs, to strengthen the key pilot and feasibility program, and to attract new and diverse investigators to the field. Building on the program’s great accomplishments, the Centers will continue to advance the field and evolve as new opportunities and priorities emerge to meet the needs of the diabetes community.

Share this page
Facebook X Email WhatsApp LinkedIn Reddit Pinterest