UW News

January 10, 2008

UW funding renewed for nutrition and diabetes studies

Two major research units within the UW Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition, Department of Medicine, have received competitive renewals of their funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

In a time of increasing competition for diminishing federal support, both the Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (CNRU) and the Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center (DERC) have been funded for the next five years. Both centers provide scientific and administrative support for investigators across many disciplines, as well as direct pilot grants and enrichment programs. The CNRU and DERC cooperate with one another as well as with other centers at UW. Only two other universities hold grants for both of these prestigious programs.

The UW refunding represents an even stronger endorsement of the programs as competition becomes tougher and as many such centers around the country have shut down. Dr. Alan Chait, Metabolism Division head, explained that for the most recent CNRU funding cycle, NIDDK “changed the playing field,” reducing the number of centers that could be considered at a time for renewed funding. Chait, the Edwin L. Bierman Professor of Medicine, is director of the UW CNRU.

Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (CNRU)

One of eight such programs nationwide, the UW CNRU is regarded as one of the strongest in the country. It is also the longest-lived, having been established 23 years ago, with the late Dr. Bierman as director and Chait as co-director, and renewed every five years since then. Chait has been director for the past three funding cycles.

The CNRU comprises four cores: The Animal Studies Core provides phenotyping of the mice and rats that serve as model animals for research. The Human Studies Core does the same for human subjects in collaboration with the new UW Institute of Translational Health Sciences. The Analytic Core provides biochemical analyses of nutritional components for human subjects and experimental animals. The Administrative Core provides biostatistical support, in partnership with Bruce Weir, chair of the Department of Biostatistics. Chait said the CNRU also “dovetails nicely” with the Seattle Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center, directed by Reneé LeBoeuf and co-directed by Michael Schwartz, both members of the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition.

The CNRU serves 75 to 80 affiliated investigators from most divisions in the Department of Medicine, other departments, and other schools of the university. In addition to research support services, the unit offers pilot and feasibility grants. Under the latest refunding, these grants will continue at an even higher level than before. CNRU enrichment programs include a lecture series and an annual research retreat.

Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center (DERC)

The UW Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center was created in 1974 and has been funded essentially continuously since then. Today it serves approximately 100 affiliated investigators from numerous departments within and outside of the School of Medicine. Fostering interdisciplinary study is an important goal of the DERC, according to Jerry Palmer, professor of medicine and director of the center. The DERC cooperates closely with the CNRU, sponsoring joint scientific activities, as well as with the new UW Institute of Translational Health Sciences.

In addition to an administrative core, the DERC supports six others: Cellular and Molecular Imaging, Clinical Research, Islet Cell and Functional Analysis, Mass Spectrometry, Molecular Genetics, and Cellular Biology. The latter two cores will soon be combined and provide a new service that performs gene transfer using viral vectors, with an initial focus on lentevirus. William Osborne, professor of pediatrics, will co-direct this core.

The DERC enrichment program provides seminars and symposia, a visiting scientist program, and a joint research retreat with the CNRU. It also provides grants to support pilot and feasibility studies for junior faculty and those entering the field of diabetes.

The center has been funded with a grant of about $5 million over five years. The NIDDK is reorganizing the diabetes centers program nationwide to create a network. While each DERC will continue to stand alone and primarily serve local investigators, all centers will share resources.

Speaking of the DERC, the CNRU, and the Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center, Chait said, “By carefully designing these three centers to interdigitate and complement one another, we can provide UW investigators interested in nutrition, diabetes, and obesity with a huge array of well-standardized core services to facilitate their research. We do this on a fee-for-service basis but at a much reduced rate because of NIDDK support.”