Michigan Medicine, through its Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute, and JDRF are collaborating to establish the JDRF Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan.

The center’s goal is to yield safer day-to-day diabetes management and improved health for persons with Type 1 diabetes by developing a comprehensive understanding of its metabolism in adolescents, young adults and long-standing patients.

The two entities announced a grant from JDRF of $7.37 million that will create the new center. 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.

The center will focus on both curing Type 1 diabetes and helping those with the disease live healthy lives until cures are found. It will accelerate the Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute’s advanced expertise in the biology of beta cells that create insulin, aiming to drive cures for Type 1 diabetes.

It also will expand on existing research on the human metabolism, aiming to address life-threatening Type 1 diabetes complications, including psychosocial issues.

Elizabeth Weiser Caswell of Ann Arbor and her father, Regent Ron Weiser, have made leadership gifts to launch the project. The amount of the gifts was not disclosed.

Two of Caswell’s three sons, as well as her husband, Trey, have Type 1 diabetes, 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 Type 1 diabetes 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 said she 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 Type 1 diabetes research, said Caswell, who also is a research information volunteer and member of the JDRF International Board of Directors and vice chair of the JDRF Research Committee.

“The pediatric endocrinology team at Michigan has been there for our family every 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, 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.”

Type 1 diabetes 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, principal investigator of the JDRF Center of Excellence and Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute.

“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.”

The Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute 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, the institute was created with the vision of expanding U-M’s impact on diabetes research and care. Some researchers within the Center of Excellence and under the larger umbrella of the institute will continue to focus on glucose, while others will approach Type 1 diabetes from other perspectives.

The four projects on which the new center will focus are:

  • Determining the optimal metabolic environment for restoration of beta cell function. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas. This program aims to enhance the cell function in people who receive beta cell replacement therapy.
  • 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 Type 1 diabetes, and to develop algorithms that guide tailored automated insulin delivery in balance with diet and exercise for people with the disease.
  • Identifying the risk of chronic complications. This program will identify predictive markers and therapeutic targets based upon defined nutrients to prevent diabetes complications.
  • Determining the psychological impacts of Type 1 diabetes. 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 Type 1 diabetes.

Those interested in partnering with Michigan Medicine to help achieve the project’s funding goals should contact Andrea LaFave, associate director of development, at ajlafave@umich.edu.

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