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Highlights | 30 years of diabetes research and care

  • UW Diabetes Care Center opened 30 years ago on March 4, 1991.
  • The center is now part of the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute at South Lake Union.
  • A leader in diabetes care and research, the institute is working toward a future free of disease related to diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

On March 4, 1991, the UW Diabetes Care Center opened to provide comprehensive diabetes care and research at UW Medicine.

At the time, the new clinic was one of the largest sites in the National Institutes of Health-funded Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT). The study was investigating if better glucose control could reduce the microvascular complications of Type 1 diabetes (such as retinopathy and kidney failure), which, at the end of the study in 1993, was exactly what was reported.

These beginnings set the stage for what 30 years later is the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute (UWMDI) — the first institute of its kind in the Pacific Northwest integrating patient care with a comprehensive program for translating basic research discoveries into improved strategies for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diabetes-related disorders.

“Our growth continued over the years and we quickly became the center of excellence for diabetes care in the Pacific Northwest for Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and atypical forms of diabetes,” says Irl B. Hirsch, MD, who has been with UWMDI since its opening and has been instrumental in its success.

Research to improve lives

UWMDI is multidisciplinary and attracts a wide range of investigators with interests in diabetes, obesity, inflammation, lipid metabolism and atherosclerosis.

Researchers at the institute conduct basic research looking into the mechanisms causing diabetes, obesity and their consequences, and translational research, which transforms research findings into clinical solutions.

UWMDI has three basic research programs: diabetes and the pancreatic islet, diabetes and metabolism and diabetes and complications, all with the goal of developing better therapies for people living with diabetes and, ultimately to find a cure.

“We have been involved in most of the landmark clinical trials of diabetes therapy during this 30-year period,” says Hirsch.

Hirsch was the senior author on a study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that examined the racial and ethnic disparities for people with Type 1 diabetes and COVID-19 infection. The study found that Black and Hispanic people with Type 1 diabetes were three times more likely to be infected and twice as likely to die from COVID-19.

Addressing inequities and barriers to care is a priority for UWMDI. Last year UWMDI opened its LatinX Diabetes Clinic to provide better access to care for people whose primary language is Spanish.

Personalized clinical care

From providing language support and outreach to helping young adults transition into managing their own care through the Adolescent and Young Adult Diabetes Program, UWMDI supports patients with comprehensive and individualized treatment plans.

Diabetes needs and management look different for everyone. Patient needs can range from basic training to assistance with complex diabetes treatment technology, and UWMDI’s care team includes adult and pediatric endocrinologists, cardiologists, nephrologists, psychologists, nurse educators, dietitians, social workers and support staff.

UWMDI also educates students, residents and fellows within UW Medicine, as well as primary care providers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Merging education, research and patient care, driven by care teams dedicated to improving diabetes treatment, is what has made UWMDI a leader in its field for the past 30 years.

“It’s been fun to reflect on all of the clinicians, researchers and staff that have made this such a successful run,” says Hirsch.