Diabetes Research Training Program Receives Renewed Grant Support

Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center

There is a drastic need to devise better approaches to prevent, treat, and ultimately reverse diabetes. Essential to any progress is the constant training of skilled cohorts of research investigators. To this end, since 2017, the University of Iowa has nurtured a Diabetes Research Training Program. The Program supports mentored postdoctoral training focused on various diabetes research topics. Six postdoctoral trainees are supported at any given time, typically for two years each. To date, 19 postdoctoral trainees have been support by this Program, including pediatric endocrine faculty Dr. Pinnaro while she was a fellow. The Program was conceived by adult endocrinologist Dr. Dale Abel and pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Norris. Based on a proposal detailing their vision, they received a 5-year “T32” grant from the NIH to fund the program 2017-2022. During this time, the Program has been a resounding success, with most trainees having progressed onward in their research careers in academia or related private industry. Based on the strengths of the initial trainees, their research, and career progress, last year Drs. Norris and Abel wrote a renewed 5-year proposal for ongoing training. Today, we are pleased to announce that the proposal was viewed very favorably and that an additional 5 years of grant support will be provided by the NIH (you can view a summary of the grant at this link). Future or existing pediatric endocrine fellows who are interested a career focused on diabetes research can benefit from this program and are encouraged to contact Dr. Norris to discuss the application process.

Cystic Fibrosis Induces Severe Redox Stress in Pancreatic Islets

Dr. Norris

For reasons that are not well understood, persons with cystic fibrosis are at very high risk to develop diabetes. A major factor in this risk is poor secretion of insulin from beta-cells. A research team at the University of Iowa has now published findings that may have identified one of the root causes. The team found exceptionally high levels of reactive oxygen species in pancreas with cystic fibrosis. Furthermore, the islets isolated from cystic fibrosis pancreases exhibited increased production of reactive oxygen species and impaired secretion of insulin. However, two different approaches aimed at reducing or neutralizing excess reactive oxygen species production failed to improve insulin secretion. Nonetheless, the findings highlight what might be an important contributor to poor insulin secretion in persons with cystic fibrosis. From our division, Dr. Andrew Norris contributed to the research and publication. The paper can be found at this DOI link.

A Novel Target to Treat Type 2 Diabetes

Dr. Norris

Type 2 diabetes affects over 35 million Americans and is a leading cause of disability, expense, and mortality. Type 2 diabetes occurs worldwide and some countries have rates up to roughly three times higher than in the US. Type 2 diabetes rates are climbing, in part because there are not optimal therapies and preventative strategies. Dr. Norris has contributed to a team that has identified a novel molecular target to treat type 2 diabetes. The new findings have now been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications (link). The new target is a protein named SWELL1. It is a chloride transport protein and is involved in beta-cell and adipose tissue functions. Interestingly, certain small molecules that inhibit SWELL1 both improve insulin sensitivity and increase beta-cell function. This combination of effects potently improved blood sugar levels in mice, indicating that these types of SWELL1 inhibitors may be a very effective means to treat and/or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Norris Named Interim Co-Director of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center

Dr. Norris

The Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center (FOE-DRC) is located at the University of Iowa. The FOE-DRC was created in 2008 when the Fraternal Order of Eagles pledged a $25 million gift toward diabetes research. Since then, the FOE-DRC (link to FOE-DRC homepage) has grown to include over 100 faculty researchers from across the University. Collectively, these faculty conduct over $30 million of NIH-funded research annually. Major innovations have included studies of mitochondrial function, muscle wasting in diabetes, heart dysfunction in diabetes, diabetes in cystic fibrosis, and use of electromagnetic fields to lower blood sugar. From 2013-2021, the Center was under the stellar leadership of Dr. Dale Abel, who now has been recruited to lead the Department of Internal Medicine at UCLA. While a new permanent FOE-DRC head is being recruited, Dr. Andrew Norris from our Division will serve as interim Co-Director of the FOE-DRC, alongside Dr. Kamal Rahmouni. From 2014-2021, Dr. Norris served as Associate Director of the FOE-DRC. Dr. Norris has been a diabetes researcher for over 2 decades, leading translational studies related to the integrated physiology of diabetes across the lifespan, with recent focus on cystic fibrosis related diabetes and early life determinants of diabetes risk.

Fetal and Newborn Glucose Metabolism: New Textbook Chapter

Recently, Dr. Norris co-authored a new chapter entitled “Glucose Metabolism in the Fetus and Newborn, and Methods for Its Investigation“. The chapter is part of the newly published Fetal and Neonatal Physiology textbook, 6th edition, edited by Polin, Abman, Rowitch & Benitz (Hardcover ISBN: 9780323712842). This is one of the leading standard textbooks for perinatal and neonatal physicians. Dr. Norris co-authored the chapter with Dr. Sarah A. Wernimont, who is an maternal-fetal medicine faculty physician at the University of Minnesota. Both Dr. Wernimont and Dr. Norris have directed research aimed at better understanding glucose metabolism in the maternal-fetal system. The textbook is available from publisher Elsevier and also at commercial book outlets.

Scientific Workshop on Cystic Fibrosis Related Diabetes

The National Institutes of Health and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation held a 3-day workshop devoted to cystic fibrosis related diabetes from June 23-25 (workshop link). The workshop was attended by interested physicians, scientists, and affected families and persons, and also was open to the public. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the current state of knowledge about this form of diabetes, and to help inform future research directions. Dr. Larson Ode and Dr. Norris from our division both spoke on their areas of related expertise, with talks entitled “Glycemic Abnormalities in Young Children” and “Innervation of the CF Pancreas” respectively. The University of Iowa was also represented by two other speakers, gene therapy expert John Engelhardt PhD and pediatric gastroenterologist Aliye Uc MD. Drs. Engelhardt and Norris were also part of the workshop planning committee, along with other experts from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Boston Children’s Hospital.

Potential Exocrine-Endocrine Pancreas Crosstalk

Pancreatic islets are the cells that produce insulin and glucagon, and are otherwise known as the endocrine pancreas. The islets are surrounded by the exocrine pancreas. The exocrine pancreas is a gland that creates digestive juices for the intestine. It has long been postulated that the exocrine pancreas cells help support the function and existence of the islets. The corollary is that a diseased exocrine pancreas might have negative influence on islet function. This postulated biology may be at play in cystic fibrosis related diabetes (CFRD), a unique form of diabetes that afflicts many persons who have cystic fibrosis. To test this possibility, researchers at the University of Iowa have studied exocrine pancreas cells grown in cell culture from ferrets with and without cystic fibrosis. The researchers found that the exocrine cells affected by cystic fibrosis secrete different proteins than the healthy cells. Furthermore, some of the differences are expected to impact islet function. The results were published in the Journal of Cystic Fibrosis. Dr. Norris from our division was one of the study authors, along with other scientists.

Modeling Pancreatitis-induced Islet Dysfunction.

Pancreatitis often leads to hyperglycemia. However, there have been major limitations in understanding the involved pathophysiology. Several collaborators at the University of Iowa have now created a model to help understand the process. The research team found that cerulein injections led to pancretitis with elevated amylase and lipase. Acute accompanied the acute pancreatitis, with both impaired insulin levels and evidence of insulin resistance. Glucose tolerance normalized by 3 months. The research team included our Dr. Andrew Norris, but also pediatric gastroenterologist Aliye Uc and researchers and faculty from the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

Diabetes Research Center Highlighted

The University of Iowa Fraternal Order of Eagle Diabetes Research Center

The University of Iowa Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center (FOEDRC) is being highlight this month in Iowa Magazine (link). You can read about work from the FOEDRC aimed at better treating and preventing diabetes. Our faculty members Drs. Norris, Tansey, and Tsalikian are mentioned.

Youtube Interview on Subject of Diabetes

Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Shriram Nene

Diabetes is a very common condition worldwide. To discuss diabetes and raise awareness, our division’s Dr. Norris was interviewed by celebrity physician and philanthropist Dr. Shriram Nene. The interview was highlighted on his Youtube channel (link here) and other social media channels. The interview touched on aspects of pediatric onset diabetes, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The discussion also touched some on aspects of diabetes in adults, noting that most adults with diabetes worldwide have type 2. To learn more about diabetes worldwide, you can visit the International Diabetes Federation website. We are indebted to Dr. Nene for his interest in diabetes and promoting health and wellness worldwide. You can read about his healthcare initiatives here (website). We are humbled that the interview has been highly viewed, over 40,000 times.