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USF Receives $70M To Continue Research Into Causes Of Diabetes


The researchers are looking at how a variety of external risk factors, like diet, stress and exposure to pollution or viruses, can help cause Type 1 diabetes.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of South Florida a $70 million grant to support research into the causes of Type 1 diabetes.

NIH will award the funds over the next four years as part of an ongoing study into the influence of environmental factors in the development of Type 1 diabetes. Researchers at USF believe a variety of external risk factors may be associated with Type 1 diabetes, which was once considered primarily a genetic condition.

Jeffrey Krischer, director of USF’s Health Informatics Institute and lead researcher on the study, has been examining the disease for nearly 20 years.

Jeff Krischer

“What we've seen over the last several decades is that the number of cases of Type 1 diabetes has been increasing faster than the genetics would seem to indicate,” Krischer said. “Therefore, there's a lot of thought that there's an environmental contribution.”

Those environmental risk factors can include diet, psychological stress and exposure to pollution or viruses.

Research indicates that overall environmental quality increasingly correlates with individual health and that children who are exposed to risk factors may be more prone to suffer poor health outcomes, including developing Type 1 diabetes later in life.

“I think we all should be concerned about our environment, and the impact that has on our health,” Krischer said. “And, I think we see that in terms of the international level, looking at greenhouse gases, looking at how that's affecting our environment, our weather and our health. I think these are all important for each and every one of us.”

The USF study is especially timely due to the coronavirus pandemic because it indicates that infectious viruses such as COVID-19 are a specific environmental factor that may increase the risk of Type 1 diabetes.

“We think that not only is coronavirus or COVID-19 implicated in a lot of lung diseases, but there is some evidence to suggest that it may also play a role with diabetes,” Krischer said. “So we think there's some interaction there.”

Beginning the research in 2004, Krischer and his team initially screened over 400,000 newborns in an effort to find a suitable population of children for the study’s cohort, finalizing the number of participants to around 8,500 children in 2007.

Since that time, the researchers have studied those children from birth to age 15, with the aim of identifying environmental factors that influence Type 1 diabetes.

The cohort was eventually formed into the Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) consortium, the largest multicenter study of its kind.

Participants range from across the Western Hemisphere with six clinical research centers spread throughout the United States and Europe, the primary being headquartered at USF in Tampa.

Krischer said that the grant from NIH will be instrumental for his research in the coming years as he and his team continue the follow up with study participants as they mature into their late teens and early adulthood.

“This will have a global reach as we discover potential targets for intervention and test new strategies to intervene and to prevent the onset of disease and hopefully will lead to the day that we will no longer have cases of Type 1 diabetes,” he said.

The grant will specifically help the researchers build upon earlier analyses examining environmental risk factors.

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William Marlow