Directors’ Reports

August 2022

FOEDRC Featured in New Video

This June, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) hosted its 82nd Scientific Sessions in New Orleans, LA.  Each year, thousands of attendees join together from across the world to hear the latest cutting-edge research. Sharing the latest scientific findings, the annual meeting is the largest and most important gathering focused on diabetes research. The ADA is the nation’s leading voluntary health organization fighting to bend the curve on the diabetes epidemic and help people living with diabetes thrive. For 82 years, the ADA has driven research to treat, manage and prevent diabetes while also working relentlessly for a cure.

Diabetes is the most common underlying chronic condition in the United States. 133 million Americans currently live with diabetes or prediabetes and, in the last 20 years, the number of Americans with diagnosed diabetes has more than doubled. The ADA is focused on timely, critical advancements in diabetes research and care.

This year, the University of Iowa was featured in a short film shown at the ADA meeting. The Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center (FOEDRC) is one of the leaders in diabetes research, focused on understanding the development of diabetes, how to better manage diabetes, and how to improve the treatment of diabetes. The FOEDRC was founded in 2008 when the Fraternal Order of Eagles pledged $25 million to establish a world class diabetes research center at the University of Iowa. With this gift, the FOEDRC has grown to include over 100 faculty members involved in diabetes research and brings in over $30 million of funding from the NIH annually.

The short film presented at the ADA scientific meeting highlights FOEDRC co-directors, Andy Norris, MD, PhD and Kamal Rahmouni, PhD, along with colleagues, Ayotunde Dokun, MD, PhD, Yumi Imai, MD, and Katie Larson-Ode, MD.

Link to the YouTube video

July 2022

Successful Diabetes Research Day 2022

Recently, the University of Iowa Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center (FOEDRC) held our annual Diabetes Research Day in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. This year, Diabetes Research Day was a hybrid event comprised of speakers from both institutions and split into two different events.

Our first keynote speaker was Bryan Bergman, PhD. Professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who gave a talk entitled Intermuscular Adipose Tissue: A Novel Adipose Depot Impacting Muscle Strength, Size, and Insulin Sensitivity in Humans. Our second keynote address was given by Carmella Evans-Molina, PhD, MD, Director, Indiana Diabetes Research Center Indiana University School of Medicine who presented a talk entitled Precision Approaches to Disease Modifying Therapies in Type 1 Diabetes.

In addition to the keynote address, Dr. Eric Weatherford of the University of Iowa FOEDRC provided a new update on our Metabolic Phenotyping Core, and Dr. Maria Razzoli of the University of Minnesota presented an update on the Physiology Core. Trainees from both institutions also presented their ongoing research: Kathleen Robinson presented a talk entitled Experiences of Weight Stigma in Healthcare: A Mixed Methods Analysis; Adeyinka Taiwo presented Metabolomics analysis of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease; Megan Beetch, Briana Clifton, Brian Ahkaphong, and Emilyn Alejandro presented Mechanisms of Fetal Programming of Metabolic Dysfunction by Placental mTORC1 Nutrient Sensing; Tyler Titcomb presented Association of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus with Dementia-related Mortality Among Postmenopausal Women: A Prospective Cohort Study; Gary Deng presented Loss of ciliary adenylyl cyclase 3 in the ventromedial hypothalamus results in a sex-dependent obese phenotype in Type 1 Diabetes.

The winners of the 2021 Collaborative Pilot & Feasibility Grant, Katie Larson-Ode, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at University of Iowa and Melena Bellin, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology, University of Minnesota gave a talk on their Pilot & Feasibility research entitled “Mechanisms of Dysglycemia and Development of Diabetes in Children with Acute Recurrent or Chronic Pancreatitis:” In addition, in our virtual talk sessions (in lieu of a traditional in person poster session) we featured over 130 faculty members, trainees, post-docs, and graduate students from both the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota.

The Diabetes Research Day 2022 a resounding success. We are already looking forward to Diabetes Research Day 2023!

June 2022

Investiture Celebrated Endowed Faculty Appointments

On May 24, 2022, Fraternal Order of Eagles members joined the University of Iowa President, College of Medicine Executive Dean, faculty, staff and students for an investiture ceremony honoring three Carver of College of Medicine faculty.

The investiture celebrated faculty appointments to endowed chairs established by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Dr. Sue Bodine was conferred the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Chair. Dr. Bodine is a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. Her research centers on the study of the neuromuscular system and its response and adaptation to stressors, including obesity, diabetes, and aging. Her laboratory is working to identify the mechanisms responsible for muscle atrophy and deter-mine strategies for preventing atrophy and accelerating muscle recovery. The Verna Funke Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Chair was bestowed on Dr. Ayotunde Dokun who is an associate professor and director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism in the Department of Internal Medicine. He performs research on Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and diabetes-associated peripheral arterial disease, with the goal of preventing diabetes-related limb amputations. Finally, the E. Dale Abel Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Chair was given to Dr. Kamal Rahmouni who is professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology and interim co-director of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center. The work in Dr. Rahmouni’s laboratory is focused on the neurobiology of metabolism, energy homeostasis, and cardiovascular function as relates to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. The goal of his research is to identify the neuroanatomical and molecular pathways involved in the regulation of metabolic, autonomic, and cardiovascular functions.

A reception followed the ceremony outside of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, located in the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building.

May 2022

Curing obesity and diabetes with a mushroom extract

Obesity causes a buildup of fat metabolites, including a toxic lipid molecule ceramide. Buildup of ceramide worsens health because it contributes to the development of diabetes and other diseases. Previous work has shown that targeting ceramide is an effective strategy to treat obesity, diabetes and associated cardiovascular disease. This can be achieved using a molecule called myriocin which is a very potent inhibitor of ceramide generation. Myriocin-mediated reduction of ceramide levels was found to be an effective way to treat obesity and associated diseases in rodents. Myriocin, which is not approved for use in humans, is abundant in a number of fungal species including the one called Cordyceps which is routinely consumed as part of traditional Chinese medicine used for the treatment of numerous diseases including diabetes. In a recently published study, FOEDRC member, Dr. Chaurasia, and his team screened extracts of Cordyceps currently being consumed by humans to identify those containing myriocin and tested their efficacy in improving body weight and glucose in obese animals. Interestingly, they identified several commercially available Cordyceps that contain myriocin. When they treated obese mice with a human equivalent dose of Cordyceps extract containing myriocin they found it was effective in reducing ceramide accumulation. This treatment was also successful in preventing obesity and improving blood glucose and liver disease. This study provides proof-of-principle that inhibiting the buildup of ceramide using myriocin containing Cordyceps extract improves not only obesity, but also diabetes and liver disease. Collectively, this work identifies commercially available Cordyceps as a readily available supplement to treat obesity and associated diseases.

Link here

April 2022

A new approach to help treat type 2 diabetes

A research team that includes several FOEDRC faculty recently published an article describing a new approach to help treat type 2 diabetes. The research team included FOEDRC faculty members Robert Kerns PhD, Andrew Norris MD PhD, Eric Taylor PhD, Yumi Imai MD, and Jessica Smith MD. Also recognized in the publication was Wojciech Grzesik, PhD, who is a research scientist in the FOEDRC metabolic phenotyping core. The work was published in the prestigious journal “Nature Communications” and can be found at this link : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35145074/

Type 2 diabetes affects over 35 million Americans and is a leading cause of disability, expense, and mortality. Type 2 diabetes rates are climbing, in part because there are not yet optimal therapies and preventative strategies. This newly published study reports the development of new prototype drugs that treat type 2 diabetes in mice. The target of these new prototype drugs is a protein named SWELL1. It is a chloride transport protein and is involved in beta-cell and adipose tissue functions. Interestingly, these new prototype drugs inhibit SWELL1 and simultaneously improve insulin sensitivity and increase beta-cell function. Because poor insulin sensitivity and poor beta-cell function are the two factors that cause type 2 diabetes, this new class of drugs represents a two-pronged approach to prevent and/or treat type 2 diabetes. As proof of concept, the investigators found that these prototype drugs potently improved blood sugar levels in mice with type 2 diabetes. The research was directed by Rajan Sah MD PhD, a former member of the FOEDRC who is currently faculty at Washington University in St Louis. The work was bolstered by ongoing collaborations between Dr. Sah and the FOEDRC.  Furthermore, this line of research was initiated at the FOEDRC while Dr. Sah was faculty at the University of Iowa.

March 2022

Finding ways to improve blood flow in peripheral arterial disease associated with type 2 diabetes

Recently the International Journal of Science featured important research by a member of the FOEDRC, Ayotunde Dokun, MD, PhD, Director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and his team.

Peripheral arterial disease is the narrowing or blockage of the vessels that supply blood to lower extremities. This disease affects millions of individuals with diabetes and is considered a major complication of diabetes which often lead to limb amputation. How diabetes contributes to the increased risk of limb amputation in individuals with peripheral arterial disease is poorly understood.  We know that peripheral arterial disease complications are different in people with type 1 versus type 2 diabetes. Therefore, it is very likely that these two forms of diabetes affect worsening of peripheral arterial disease through different processes.  We know that a protein called disintegrin and metalloproteinase gene 12 (ADAM12) is expressed at high levels in cells lining the blood vessels where there is poor blood flow. ADAM12 plays a key role in the ability to restore blood flow to limbs when there is blockage of blood vessels. Much less is known about how ADAM12 expression is increased or regulated in areas of poor blood flow. In our previous work, we showed that under normal conditions where there is no diabetes the levels of a small ribonucleic acid (RNA) called miR-29a must go down for ADAM12 expression to go up which then helps restore blood flow when there is blockage of blood vessel. In our most recent study, we found that following blockage of blood flow in type 2 diabetic limbs miR-29a levels does not go down which prevents increased expression of ADAM12 leading to poor blood flow recovery.  We also found that treatment of mice with type 2 diabetes with an inhibitor of miR-29a improved ADAM12 expression and resulted in improved blood flow recovery, reduced skeletal muscle injury and improved muscle function. Importantly, we showed similar improvements if we augment ADAM12 expression directly by gene transfer. Therefore, our result has identified a way to possibly improve blood flow to limbs in type 2 diabetes by treating with inhibitors of miR-29a or by augmentation of ADAM12 expression.

February 2022

The Impactful Diabetes Research Career of Eva Tsalikian, MD

On January 3rd, 2022, we celebrated the career of FOEDRC faculty member Dr. Eva Tsalikian on the occasion of her well-earned retirement. For over 4 decades, Dr. Tsalikian has been tireless in her pursuit of better treatments for children with diabetes. Her research work earned her the 2011 Mary Tyler Moore & S. Robert Levine Excellence in Clinical Diabetes Research award and she was the 2013 Honoree at the Eastern Iowa Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation gala. She has published over 120 research articles, nearly all of which are focused on diabetes. Her early work focused on amino acid metabolism in diabetes. However, in the early 1990s she refocused her research efforts on improving clinical care for persons with diabetes. Here are some highlights of her many impactful contributions to diabetes research. (1) In the early 2000s, she published a series of articles that contributed to the advancement of continuous glucose monitors for use in diabetes treatment. (2) In another series of publications, she helped determine that out-of-control diabetes is associated with structural brain changes in children. Importantly, this finding helped spur major changes to the blood sugar goals of diabetes therapy in children. (3) In 2019, she was part of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that a medication called teplizumab can significantly delay the onset of type 1 diabetes. This work was a major step forward in the development of strategies to prevent type 1 diabetes. Impressively, during her productive research career, Dr. Tsalikian wore several other hats. She was a physician who provided clinical care to children and young adults with diabetes. She also built a thriving Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes clinical division at the University Hospital, starting essentially with only herself. It was for all of these reasons that we honored Dr. Tsalikian on January 3rd. However, we had another reason to celebrate. In retirement, as an emeritus faculty member, Dr. Tsalkilian will continue to be involved in diabetes research, helping advise the clinical group she founded as they move forward working to develop better treatments for diabetes.

January 2022

Farewell and Thank You

It is with mixed emotions, but with a sense of great pride in our accomplishments that I write this my final Director’s report. When I came to the University of Iowa nearly 9-years ago, I was given a challenge to leverage the generous gift of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, to develop a world class diabetes research center. I reflected back on where things were at the University of Iowa in 2008, when the FOE began your campaign for the Diabetes Research Center and where they are now. In 2008, there were 5 faculty members identified as doing diabetes research with a total team of 20. We had 10 grants received and approximately $1M in funding from the National Institute of Health. Now, 13 years later the FOEDRC houses 110 faculty members, greater than1 000 researchers. Since that time we have received more than $375M in research funding from 780 grants and more than 1,600 published research articles. Many members of our team have received national and international recognition for their work. We have made important research breakthroughs ranging from the development of promising new approaches for treating diabetes, to increased understanding of how diabetes happens and what we can do to prevent it. As I move on, I hand the reins over to two distinguished and highly qualified colleagues, Dr. Andrew Norris and Kamal Rahmouni, who have agreed to serve as interim co-directors of the FOEDRC.

Andy Norris, MD PhD, is a physician scientist and Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Biochemistry. He serves as the Director of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, and holds a Richard O. Jacobson Foundation Chair in Pediatrics. His research involves 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. He has served as Associate Director of the FOEDRC since 2014. Andy has provided steady leadership within the FOEDRC since its inception. He was instrumental in setting up euglycemic clamps in our Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Core, he has led our Chalk Talk series which has provided invaluable grant mentorship to entire FOEDRC Community. Andy served with me as Co-PI of our Diabetes Center Training grant, which will be renewed for funding for an additional 5 years.

Kamal Rahmouni is a professor in the Department of Neuroscience & Pharmacology and Internal Medicine. He also holds the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Center Research Endowed Chair and serves as Co-Director of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative. His research seeks to understand the fundamental processes involved in the control of energy homeostasis in health and disease. His work has led to the identification of novel mechanisms that underlie obesity and associated disorders including type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Kamal has been the recipient of the 2016 Paul Korner Award by the International Society of Hypertension (ISH) and the 2015 Mid-Career Award for Research Excellence from the Council of Hypertension from the American Heart Association. He is a co-PI on the Nephrology and Hypertension Training Grant and the Training Director of the American Heart Association Strategic Focused Research Network Award to the University of Iowa on cardiometabolic disease.

 Kamal and Andy have mentored many trainees and faculty within the FOEDRC and are very qualified to continue the current trajectory of the Diabetes Center. I am confident that they will provide strong and steady leadership as long as needed, while a search for a new permanent director is conducted.  The FOEDRC is strong and our current trajectory predicts a bright future. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you as Director of the FOEDRC and thank you for the generosity of the FOE to being us to this point. I look forward to serving as a senior advisor in the years ahead.

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