- Associated Press - Sunday, August 24, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Researchers in Iowa City hope to be one step closer to curing diabetes with the official opening of the University of Iowa Diabetes Research Center.

The center’s director, Dr. E. Dale Abel, said multiple pilot programs have been in the works for three years or more aimed at treating and curing diabetes. Among them are research on glucose production, natural treatments for diabetic nerve disease and the drug FGF21, which Abel said has potent antidiabetic effects that may be used as treatment in the next three years, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported (http://icp-c.com/1sVkABQ ).

Abel said he hopes those programs help establish the center that’s slated to open this month similarly to Boston’s Joslin Diabetes Center, which describes itself as the world’s preeminent diabetes clinic and research center.

“The goal ultimately is to really help the University of Iowa become a major hub for cutting-edge diabetes research that will really capture the attention of the world,” Abel said.

Through a $25 million grant provided by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an international nonprofit organization, the project that officially began in 2008 will come to fruition this year.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported more cases of diabetes have been diagnosed in the state in recent years, mirroring national trends; the rate of diagnosed diabetes cases among adults in Iowa has doubled since 1991, rising to 7 percent in 2010. As of 2011, Johnson and Story counties recorded the lowest percentage of diagnosed diabetes cases in Iowa at 5.5 percent.

In addition to the grant provided by its namesake, the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center is housed in the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building - a $126 million facility paid for in part by about $30 million from the state. The Diabetes Research Center is the first laboratory to occupy the new space, University of Iowa Foundation spokeswoman Dana Larson said.

The research center’s organizational structure was largely organized by Dr. Daryl Granner, who previously led and expanded the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center in the 1990s. Granner, a University of Iowa professor emeritus, was asked to come out of retirement in 2011 to help recruit researchers and establish pilot programs, Abel said.

“And what that did was basically bring together a very vibrant and collegial community of researchers focused on diabetes research.”

Abel said the research center is operating with more than 80 people who are faculty at University of Iowa, including about 15 researchers recruited specifically for the center.

Among the center’s concerns is what Abel called a national shortage of endocrinologists qualified to treat patients. In addition to its research, the center will work closely with a clinical facility at the Iowa River Landing clinic in Coralville. The clinic already is seeing patients amid a renovation expected to double the clinic’s available space to be completed early next year.

Abel said diabetes is frequently overlooked by the general public because many patients lack symptoms, but the disease poses a special risk in a country with well-documented weight gain; a 2012 study published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that since the early 1960s, obesity among adults has more than doubled from 13.4 percent to 35.7 percent.

“And it’s taken a while for people to realize how toxic being overweight can be for developing diabetes.”

Among the center’s initiatives aimed at fighting obesity and related diabetes pathology is a pilot program creating a computer program that communicates with patients. By using patients’ cellphones, the program designers hope to help monitor patient activity and encourage healthier lifestyles.

“I think that’s a real challenge,” Abel said. “Because it requires not only information and education, but motivating patients to do behavior change, and that’s really tough to do.”

Story Continues →