BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has designated the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) one of only six Diabetes Research and Training Centers (DRTC) in the country, putting UAB at the forefront in the development of new methods to treat, prevent and, ultimately, cure diabetes and its complications.
"The DRTC grant award will enable UAB to play a major role in advancing diabetes research and treatment," said principal investigator W. Timothy Garvey, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences. "Our goals include working to decrease morbidity and mortality associated with diabetes, increasing quality of life for our diabetes patients, providing an outstanding environment for student training, and providing faculty career development in diabetes research."
The NIH award gives UAB $6.3 million over five years to grow its diabetes initiatives. The DRTC is part of the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center.
Garvey said DRTC allows UAB's diabetes programs to expand, especially in metabolic and vascular research. Diabetes is both a metabolic and vascular disease, and the DRTC will bring together researchers in both areas to achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms, prevention, and control of diabetes, diabetes complications, and cardiometabolic risk. It also enables UAB, through new research collaborations, to bring in more research dollars and attract additional leading diabetes researchers.
UAB's Comprehensive Diabetes Center is known for groundbreaking research in immunity and autoimmunity, examining the biological mechanisms that cause diabetes, experimenting with new treatments and successfully transplanting healthy islet cells into the body of a diabetic patient.
John Corbett, Ph.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center, said the DRTC's initiatives will build upon this strong foundation and will help take UAB to the next level of diabetes research and training.
"The designation immediately puts UAB in the national spotlight for diabetes research and these new resources enable the university to continue to develop a diabetes center recognized for its leadership in diabetes research and care," Corbett said. "We are thrilled with the opportunities this presents to both UAB and the communities we serve."
The DRTC will promote research in five core areas: pathology, led by Scott Ballinger, Ph.D.; animal physiology, led by Tim Nagy, Ph.D.; human biology, led by Barbara Gower, Ph.D.; metrics and health services research, led by Catarina Kiefe, M.D.; and community research, led by Mona Fouad, M.D. In addition, the DRTC will work to develop and evaluate new models of diabetes patient care that incorporate multi-disciplinary health care teams to improve patient outcomes and that will provide venues for both clinical training and translational and health services delivery research.
UAB has two new clinics are opening in the spring that will provide a base for some research into models of diabetes patient care. One is for teens with diabetes transitioning from pediatric to adult care and the other is a multidisciplinary clinic designed to be a one stop shop for adults to see physicians for diabetes care and for care related to diabetes complications. Garvey said these two clinics provide an excellent setting for DRTC investigators in clinical and translational research.
The DRTC initiative also will include a pilot research grant program to emphasize innovation, translation, and career development of highly promising junior investigators. The pilot grant program will be headed by Stuart Frank, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.
Garvey said the pilot grant program will have $300,000 each year to fund six research projects at $50,000 each. An additional component will be an enrichment program, led by Dennis Pillion, Ph.D., that will include seminars and conferences with speakers from both inside and outside UAB to present the latest diabetes-related research.
The NIH-designated DRTCs are part of an integrated program of 17 diabetes centers overseen by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a part of the NIH. Sites are required to have an existing base of high quality diabetes-related research as a primary requirement for establishment of a DRTC.