UCSF Clinical Trials Hold Promise to Alter Course of Diabetes

June 17, 2013

By Janis Rice

The Diabetes Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is unique among diabetes facilities nationwide. Since 2000, the UCSF Diabetes Center has rapidly accelerated the pace of clinical care by combining research and education to create a comprehensive program to improve the quality of life of those living with diabetes. The UCSF Diabetes Center’s 150 researchers have achieved important scientific and clinical advancements in immunology, endocrinology, developmental and stem cell biology, human genetics, molecular and cell biology. They also continue to work to discover the underlying causes of diabetes and to pursue the most innovative basic and clinical research to help prevent, treat and cure diabetes.

This is an exciting time in type 1 diabetes research.
Stephen Gitelman, MD, Director of Pediatric Diabetes, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital

This commitment to advancing research and clinical care in type 1 diabetes is exemplified by the research of Stephen Gitelman, MD, the Director of the Pediatric Diabetes Program at UCSF’s Benioff Children’s Hospital. He is interested in the latest technologies that are available to help achieve optimal metabolic control. Despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses, current technologies are not enough to provide early detection and effective management of type 1 diabetes in the clinic setting. Dr. Gitelman has firsthand experience with this absence and it has propelled his research in type 1 diabetes.

“Armed with this knowledge, we at the UCSF Diabetes Center have developed a series of novel clinical trials that hold great promise to alter the course of type 1 diabetes,” Gitelman states. Using immunologic, metabolic and genetic screening tests, UCSF doctors are now able to identify relatives at risk for developing type 1 diabetes. Additionally, there are currently three clinical trials at UCSF that are exploring the possibility to prevent or delay the onset of disease.  For those with recent onset of type 1 diabetes, the UCSF Diabetes Center is exploring several approaches to preserve any remaining functional beta cells in order to prolong the honeymoon phase of diabetes progression.

“This is an exciting time in type 1 diabetes research,” says Dr. Gitelman. He and his team are gearing up for an exciting new clinical trial. “Hopefully in the near future for people with long standing type 1 diabetes, there will be a study to utilize stem cells as a source to replace the missing beta cells.”

To foster and promote cross-departmental teamwork and collaboration, Anthony Kim, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at UCSF, and Dr. Gitelman are working together. As Medical Director of UCSF’s Stroke Center, Dr. Kim’s research interests include improving stroke prevention and diagnosis and the use of information technologies to improve quality of care for stroke patients. Since diabetics have an increased risk of having a stroke—which is responsible for 25% of deaths in this population—Dr. Kim has partnered with Dr. Gitelman to develop an online screening questionnaire specific to type 1 diabetes. Dr. Kim says “the process of translating cutting-edge scientific research in the laboratory into effective treatments for our patients at the beside requires rigorous clinical trials in real patients.” This step is often delayed because identifying and enrolling participants into clinical trials is slow and costly, a challenge that Dr. Kim has faced in his own research.

“As a neurologist, I take care of patients with stroke. Despite the great need for new treatments, I saw that promising research studies were delayed or even cancelled because the right patients were difficult to identify and enroll, and because even patients who were interested in clinical research had a difficult time connecting with clinical research studies.” In order to improve the process of quickly and effectively connecting interested patients to clinical trials, Dr. Kim developed a website and a web-based questionnaire to help to connect stroke patients to neurology clinical trials at UCSF. This web-based questionnaire was so successful that Dr. Kim looked for ways to expand this approach across UCSF to other disease areas through funding from UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). Dr. Kim hopes that through this experience, the use of online tools will continue to expand across UCSF to other departments and improve access to clinical trials for all patients.

The UCSF Diabetes Center’s web-based screening questionnaire quickly connects patients with UCSF physicians and their research. At the end of the questionnaire, users receive an immediate message letting them know if they are a potential participant for a specific research study. A study staff member will then contact them within a few days to talk about the study and any other tests that may be involved to help determine final eligibility. By promoting cross-departmental relationships and using the latest communication methods Drs. Gitelman and Kim are helping to advance research and improve the quality of care for their patients.

For more information about Type 1 Diabetes Trials at the UCSF Diabetes Center CLICK HERE.

To access the UCSF Diabetes Center web-based screening tool and to find out if you or a family member might be eligible for studies CLICK HERE.

UCSF's CTSI is a member of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards network funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (grant Number UL1 TR000004) at the National Institutes of Health. Under the banner of "Accelerating Research to Improve Health," CTSI provides a wide range of resources and services for researchers, and promotes online collaboration and networking tools such as UCSF Profiles.