IBRI Diabetes Center

scientist with samples
Robert Considine, PhD
IBRI Diabetes Center Director

Working to prevent diabetes

Many of the innovations in diabetes care have happened here in Indiana.

The IBRI is poised to inspire the next generation of innovations in diabetes care through its research into skeletal muscles and glucose intake, how the brain effects energy expenditure, and the relationship between beta cells and the immune system.

The goal of these integrated research lines, tackling the different pathways that lead to obesity and diabetes, is to improve the lives of individuals with diabetes and ultimately lead to diabetes prevention.

2019 Highlights

Robert Considine, PhD, is leading the IBRI Diabetes Center with tremendous support from Decio Eizirik, MD, PhD. Together with their team, they are focused on the molecular basis of diabetes and its complications, including mechanisms for beta cell regeneration.

  • Launched three new Investigator labs
  • Established an iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cells) Core laboratory
  • Published research in four journals including Nature Genetics and Diabetes Care

World-renowned investigator joins IBRI

In July 2019, at our first-ever Diabetes Seminar, we announced that Decio Eizirik, MD, PhD, had joined our team. Eizirik arrived at the IBRI from Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) Center for Diabetes Research in Brussels, Belgium.

As Eizirik established his lab, he added Donalyn Scheuner, PhD, Stephane Demine, PhD, and William Carter. Eizirik and his team have already made strides on:

  • Beta cells and the immune system, published in Nature Genetics. While this research helped us understand why some people get diabetes and others get arthritis despite having several risk genes in common, it also showed us that only targeting the immune system for type 1 diabetes (T1D) therapies is not enough. We must also boost beta cell survival. With this knowledge we can focus on developing novel therapies to treat T1D.
  • Establishing an induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) core at the IBRI and validating an iPSC-based model to develop pancreatic beta cells to better understand the pathogenesis of T1D. The stem cells we work with are adult cells that are modified. This core allows us to screen for new drugs that may protect beta cells early in the disease and therefore slow the progression of T1D. This research was published in Stem Cell Research & Therapy.
  • Testing a new treatment for a human monogenic form of diabetesFriedreich ataxia—published in JCI Insight. This is the first time a treatment has shown interesting perspectives to slow the progression of this devastating disease. Importantly, it also validates the use of iPSC in screening for new drugs for rare and difficult-to-treat diseases.

“I’m eager to be part of the IBRI and to work with my new colleagues to help create breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment and management of diabetes in Indiana and beyond.”

—Investigator Decio Eizirik, MD, PhD

Two new labs approach diabetes in different ways

The fourth quarter of 2019 brought the launch of two new labs in the Diabetes Center: Flak Lab and Witczak Lab. First, we welcomed Jonathan Flak, PhD, and his expertise in the central nervous system’s regulation of glucose metabolism. Dr. Flak added David Johnson to his team and together they are focused on investigating the neurocircuits that are critical to obesity and diabetes.

Then, we introduced Carol Witczak, PhD, who is an expert in the molecular and cellular factors that regulate muscle metabolism. Her research with Parker Evans is centered around understanding the molecular and cellular factors that regulate skeletal muscle glucose uptake and metabolism in response to type 2 diabetes and exercise.

Exploration of neurodevelopmental delay and seizures

Teresa Mastracci, PhD, and her lab team continued their work on the polyamine and hypusine biosynthesis pathway. In 2019, Mastracci published a significant paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics identifying rare recessive gene variants in deoxyhypusine synthase that result in neurodevelopmental delay and seizures in humans.

This previously unknown monogenic disease is now known as “DHPS Deficiency.” She presented this work at the Gordon Research Conference. Mastracci also received a grant from the DHPS Foundation entitled, “The role of human DHPS mutations in development and disease,” to continue her work in this area.

Sweet response

In 2019, Robert Considine, PhD, continued his research into how the brain responds to sweet tastes. He presented data to the American Diabetes Association and the Obesity Society that showed women with obesity have greater activation of brain areas in response to oral sucrose than normal weight women, even though there is no difference in their preferred sweet taste.

Food choice, determined to a large extent by our brain, is crucial in maintaining normal body weight, and understanding these complex processes will help to clarify the ongoing obesity epidemic.

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