Diabetes

The Medical School's tremendous depth and breadth of diabetes clinical research has changed the way we understand, prevent, and treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The University of Minnesota Medical School has a long history of successful research in diabetes. Our impact on diabetes research dates back at least to the beginning of the last century, when Dr. Moses Barron made an observation about pancreatic islets that ultimately inspired the approach selected by the Canadian investigators who discovered insulin.

Our teams of researchers address multiple facets of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Current research strengths include:

  • Work identifying how diabetes affects brain structure, metabolism, and function
  • Projects that explain how obesity related inflammation causes diabetes
  • Efforts to improve islet transplantation as a therapy. 

Researchers have participated in nearly all the leading clinical trials about how diabetes is treated and internationally recognized as leaders in diabetes.

Prevention and cure of type 1 diabetes

Terry, Toni, Beatrice August 2014_2Dr. Terry Piloya, Dr. Beatrice Odongkara visiting Dr. Antoniette Moran in Minnesota in August.  They are the first two pediatric endocrinologists in Uganda.

Antoinette Moran, MD, professor of pediatric endocrinology, makes regular trips to Africa and has helped to train endocrinologists in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, where previously there were none. 

Beginning in 2007 when Moran made her first trip to Africa, there wasn’t a single pediatric endocrinologist in sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa. In collaboration with a pediatrician at Mulago Hospital, Moran was able to help develop a pediatric diabetes program and plan.

Moran continues to train endocrinologists and develop protocols and plans to help children receive insulin. Since then, things have improved considerably for children with diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Moran is also currently studying the prevention and cure of type 1 diabetes as part of TrialNet and the Immune Tolerance Network.

Changing the care for people with type 2 diabetes

Professor Elizabeth Seaquist, MD, is currently president of medicine and science on the Board of Directors for the American Diabetes Association, the nation’s largest voluntary health organization leading the fight to Stop Diabetes®.

Seaquist directs the University of Minnesota site for two NIH-funded clinical trials, including the GRADE study that is enrolling patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes into a study that will determine the best drug to add to a metformin-based regimen. Seaquist believes this trial could help change the trajectory of care for people with type 2 diabetes.

Learn the impact the study is already having on one patient's life.

Seaquist has a passion for treating patients

Why Elizabeth Seaquist Does What She Does

Taking stem cells from lab to bedside to cure diabetes

Meri FirpoMeri Firpo, PhD, is part of a group of clinicians and researchers at the University of Minnesota that are playing an important role in the development of clinical trials for pancreas and human islet transplantation therapies for type 1 diabetes.

Firpo’s role in the clinical trials is to generate islets for transplantation from the patient's own skin cells and thus far they have shown that skin-derived stem cells, or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, can be directed to make insulin-producing islet cell precursors that can reverse diabetes in mouse models. Firpo then uses stem cells from someone with type 1 diabetes to do this, which provides tangible evidence that it is possible to cure diabetes with the patient’s own skin cells.

Currently, Firpo and her colleagues are undertaking the difficult task of developing this discovery into a process that can be tested in the clinic for human patient use. For this purpose, she must demonstrate the safety and reproducibility of the cell product to the FDA. This task is generally not as exciting as making the initial discovery, but a very important and necessary step in the research process. This process is made more challenging, since this is a new approach to treating humans, and there are no safety standards established yet.

To overcome these obstacles, Firpo is working at an international level to establish standards, and getting help from engineers and experts in other cell therapies in addition to her work with islet transplant colleagues here at the University of Minnesota.

Diabetes research across the U

Focusing on patient care, teaching students and residents, providing educational seminars and continuing professional development (CPD) programs, training endocrinology fellows, and continuing established research programs while developing new ones.


Researchers are driven to reverse type 1 diabetes through pioneering islet transplantation treatments and ongoing research efforts. Their goal is to enable people to live diabetes-free lives.

Learn more about the University’s work in diabetes across the health sciences.

Diabetes slide

Recent publications

  • Bernhard HJ, Clarke WR, Bridges ND, Eggerman TL, Alejandro R, Bellin M, Chaloner K, Czarniecki CW, Goldstein JS, Hunsicker LG, Kaufman DB, Korsgren O, Larsen CP, Luo X, Markmann JF, Naji A, Oberholzer J, Posselt AM, Rickels MR, Ricordi C, Robien MA, Senior PA, Sharpiro AMJ, Stock PG, Turgeon NA. 2016. Phase 3 Trial of Transplantation of Human Islets in Type 1 Diabetes Complicated by Severe Hypoglycemia. Diabetes 39:1-11.
  • Chow LS, Chen H, Miller ME, Marcovina SM, Seaquist ER. 2015. Biomarkers related to severe hypoglycaemia and lack of good glycaemic control in ACCORD. Diabetologia 58(2):7.

Grants and awards