Michigan Medicine, JDRF commit to raise $14M for new diabetes center

U-M in process of raising $7M for effort

Donor Elizabeth Caswell, for whom the Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute at Michigan Medicine was named. (Michigan Medicine)

ANN ARBOR – Michigan Medicine has partnered with type 1 diabetes research nonprofit JDRF to establish the new JDRF Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan.

The goal of the center, through U-M’s Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute, is to accelerate research to cure type 1 diabetes and to improve lives. This includes safer day-to-day management of diabetes and improving health for those living with T1D by understanding metabolism in teenagers, young adults and those living long term with the condition.

The Center of Excellence was made possible by a grant from JDRF of $7.37 million. Both partners aim to raise nearly $14 million, with JDRF’s goal of more than $7 million and Michigan’s Medicine goal of $6.5 million for the new COE.

In addition to researching the human metabolism and driving a cure, the COE will advance the Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute’s broad expertise in understanding beta cells that create insulin, and will aim to address life-threatening complications from T1D, including psychological effects.

Ann Arbor resident Elizabeth Weiser Caswell and her father, Regent Ron Weiser, have made leadership gifts to kickstart the project.

Read: University of Michigan regent, wife donate $30M for new diabetes institute

Caswell’s husband, Trey, and two of her three sons have T1D. Her personal experience drove her to become a T1D advocate. Currently an executive committee member of the board of directors of JDRF’s Metro Detroit/Southeast Michigan Chapter, Caswell said she is excited for the new collaboration and hopes it will deliver breakthroughs for T1D.

“Michigan Medicine is the ideal partner for JDRF,” Caswell said in a news release. “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," Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D., vice president of reseSanarch at JDRF, said in a news release. "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. 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.”

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An autoimmune disease, T1D causes a person’s pancreas to stop producing insulin, a hormone that allows people to get energy from food. In people with T1D, their body’s immune system attacks and destroys beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Scientists are still trying to understand what causes the condition but believe that both environmental triggers and genetic factors are involved. Unlike T2D, the onset of T1D has nothing to do with lifestyle or diet.

There is no cure for the disease and it is not preventable.

“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,” Thomas Gardner, principal investigator of the JDRF Center of Excellence and EWCDI, said in a news release. “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.”

According to Michigan Medicine, the four projects that the COE will focus on 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 the research endeavor, contact Andrea LaFave, associate director of development at ajlafave@umich.edu.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.