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$14 Million Push for Type 1 Diabetes Breakthroughs: New JDRF Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan

Collaboration to accelerate research to cure type 1 diabetes and improve lives.

NEW YORK, NY and ANN ARBOR, MI: Michigan Medicine, through its Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute (EWCDI), and JDRF are collaborating to establish the JDRF Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan. The goal of the Center of Excellence (COE) is to yield safer day-to-day diabetes management and improved health for persons with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) by developing a comprehensive understanding of T1D metabolism in adolescents, young adults and people with long-standing T1D.

The two entities announced a grant from JDRF of $7.37 million that will create the new JDRF COE at the U-M. In addition to JDRF’s goal of raising more than $7 million over the next five years to fund the center, Michigan Medicine has a goal to raise at least another $6.5 million to support it, for a total of nearly $14 million for the new COE.

The Center will focus on both curing T1D and helping those with the disease live healthy lives until cures are found. It will accelerate the EWCDI’s advanced expertise in the biology of beta cells that create insulin, aiming to drive cures for T1D. It also will expand on existing research on the human metabolism, aiming to address life-threatening T1D complications, including psychosocial issues.

Elizabeth Weiser Caswell

Elizabeth Weiser Caswell

Elizabeth Weiser Caswell, an Ann Arbor resident, along with her father, Regent Ron Weiser, have made leadership gifts to launch the project.

Two of Caswell’s three sons, as well as her husband, Trey, have T1D, a challenging and often misunderstood disease that requires extreme vigilance in their family. Caswell’s personal experience led her to become an advocate for people with T1D and their families. An executive committee member of the board of directors of the Metro Detroit/Southeast Michigan Chapter of JDRF (formerly called the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), Caswell is excited by the possibilities of a new grant and gift involving JDRF and Michigan Medicine.

“Michigan Medicine is the ideal partner for JDRF,” which is the world’s leading nonprofit funder of T1D research, said Caswell, also a research information volunteer and member of the JDRF International Board of Directors and Vice Chair, JDRF Research Committee. “The Pediatric Endocrinology team at Michigan has been there for our family very step of the way — advising us on daily care, advances in treatment technologies, and opportunities for clinical research. U-M is asking questions that aren’t being asked. I think the science is so exciting and there are so many areas where we’re poised for a breakthrough.”

“This center offers us game-changing possibilities. Through it, we will be able to accelerate the depth of work already underway, connect to other critical projects and readily collaborate in ways not previously possible,” said Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D., vice president of research at JDRF. “This center is a partnership of strengths that we know will advance research in meaningful ways, and, we all hope, will deliver cures for T1D.”

Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D.

Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D.

T1D is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle.

The disease is not preventable, and currently, there is no cure.

“The JDRF Center of Excellence and the Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute establishes us as one of the premier diabetes centers in the country—and the strongest in the Midwest,” said Thomas Gardner, M.D., M.S., principal investigator of the JDRF Center of Excellence and EWCDI. “The work of the COE will yield safer day-to-day diabetes management programs and improved health for individuals living with T1D. We hope to redefine what diabetes is and use that information to improve the quality of life for people with the disease.”

Thomas Gardner, M.D., M.S.

Thomas Gardner, M.D., M.S.

EWCDI is a newly launched initiative that will coordinate and centralize campus resources that study diabetes. Anchored by a group of more than 350 scientists with expertise in diabetes, diabetes complications, obesity and metabolism across U-M, EWCDI was created with the vision of expanding U-M’s impact on diabetes research and care. Some researchers within the COE and under the larger umbrella of EWCDI will continue to focus on glucose, while others will approach T1D from other perspectives.

The four projects on which the COE will focus are:

  1. Determining the optimal metabolic environment for restoration of beta (ß) cell function. T1D is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the ß cells in the pancreas. This program aims to enhance the cell function in people who receive ß cell replacement therapy.
  2. Determining susceptibility to hypoglycemia with the use of advanced diabetes technologies. This program will look at patients’ metabolomics profiles and other factors, and aims to determine sets of metabolites in addition to glucose that impact T1D, and to develop algorithms that guide tailored automated insulin delivery in balance with diet and exercise for people with T1D.
  3. Identifying the risk of chronic complications. This program will identify predictive markers and therapeutic targets based upon defined nutrients to prevent diabetes complications.
  4. Determining the psychological impacts of T1D. This program looks at patterns of mental health utilization with the goal of creating new methods to identify stress and cognitive impairment in people with T1D.    

If you are interested in partnering with Michigan Medicine to help achieve the funding goals and accelerate this critical research endeavor, please contact Andrea LaFave, associate director of development at ajlafave@umich.edu.

About the Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute

The Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute provides the organization and administration to support and coordinate the many diabetes-related programs at the University of Michigan. EWCDI works to connect with others that focus on diabetes at the local, regional, national and international levels. EWCDI performs outreach to increase the impact and visibility of diabetes-related programs at the University of Michigan. By supporting rigorous science and its integration with patient-centered clinical care, EWCDI leads the way to prevent, treat and cure diabetes and its complications, and related metabolic diseases. For more information, visit medicine.umich.edu/dept/diabetes-institute.

About JDRF

JDRF’s mission is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications. To accomplish this, JDRF has invested more than $2.5 billion in research funding since our inception. We are an organization built on a grassroots model of people connecting in their local communities, collaborating regionally for efficiency and broader fundraising impact, and uniting on a national stage to pool resources, passion, and energy. We collaborate with academic institutions, policymakers, and corporate and industry partners to develop and deliver a pipeline of innovative therapies to people living with T1D. Our staff and volunteers throughout the United States and our five international affiliates are dedicated to advocacy, community engagement and our vision of a world without T1D. For more information, please visit jdrf.org or follow us on Twitter: @JDRF

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NOTICE: Except where otherwise noted, all articles are published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. You are free to copy, distribute, adapt, transmit, or make commercial use of this work as long as you attribute Michigan Medicine as the original creator and include a link to this article.

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