Diabetes researchers at the University of Michigan Health System have won a five-year, $8.9 million federal grant that will accelerate a broad range of studies aimed at understanding diabetes and its complications, and addressing the epidemic of type 2 diabetes that threatens to wreak havoc on the American public's health for decades to come.
The funding, from the National Institutes of Health, continues U-M's unbroken 30-year streak of winning such major diabetes grants, and cements the university's position as one of only seven NIH-designated diabetes centers in the country.
The grant renews the core funding for the Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center, which counts nearly 150 U-M diabetes researchers among its members. The U-M Medical School and its Department of Internal Medicine will each contribute another $500,000 to the diabetes center over five years, for a total of $9.9 million.
The funding will allow the MDRTC to provide "seed money" for early-stage research projects in U-M laboratories and clinics, and to operate "core" scientific facilities that can be shared by researchers involved in studies of diabetes and related disorders.
From sophisticated analysis of scientific samples, to studies of how diabetes affects high-risk populations such as African Americans and Arab Americans, the MDRTC supports research on both diabetes and its complications — the long-term problems that arise as the disease harms hearts, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.
Researchers from nearly every department of the U-M Medical School are members of the MDRTC. But the center also includes researchers from the U-M Schools of Public Health, Nursing, and Social Work, and from the Dental School, Life Sciences Institute, and colleges of Engineering and Pharmacy.
"At a time when competition for federal research dollars is fierce, and the need for progress in diabetes is urgent, we're extremely pleased to be awarded this funding as a recognition of our past performance and our potential to make even greater progress in understanding, preventing, diagnosing and treating diabetes and its complications," says William Herman, M.D., MPH, the center's director.
He notes that the grant is especially crucial to the state of Michigan, which has an above-average diabetes rate - a rate that has risen 52 percent in the last eight years. Michigan also has a high rate of obesity, which raises type 2 diabetes risk.
Herman is the Stefan S. Fajans/GlaxoSmithKline Professor of Diabetes in the Department of Internal Medicine at the U-M Medical School, as well as a professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health. His professorship is named for U-M diabetes expert Stefan Fajans, M.D., who in 1977 established the MDRTC and was its director until 1986.
Now an emeritus professor at the Medical School, Fajans was the first to identify a rare form of diabetes called maturity-onset diabetes of the young, or MODY, and to find links between this disease and genes involved in insulin secretion. Today, Herman notes, those same genetic regions and problems with insulin secretion are being seen as important to the much more common type 2 diabetes - showing the importance of Fajans' earlier work, and of basic research at the MDRTC.
Over time, the number of researchers involved in the MDRTC has grown from a few dozen to nearly 150. In just the past five years, they've published more than 1,500 research papers.
"The center's facilities and research-support functions act as shared resources that these researchers can use in their work," Herman explains. "In fact, the availability of the MDRTC resources often helps researchers win their own individual funding from federal and private resources. Right now, our members hold grant funding for diabetes-related research that totals nearly $31 million."