Basic Research


Diabetes research has long been an important focus for investigation at The University of Chicago. Research into the causes, complications, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and other endocrine disorders continues to be the base upon which a great many investigator initiated research projects. Diabetes-related research is focused on areas as diverse as peptide and protein structure, pancreatic ß-cell biology, genetic studies, receptor structure and hormone signaling, growth factors and cell proliferation, endocrine system interrelationships, lipoproteins and atherogenesis, gene regulation, transcription factor structure and function, endocrine-related gene mutations, autoantibodies and autoimmune disease, immune function and transplantation.

Doctors reviewing an x-ray

The University of Chicago has a rich tradition of accomplishment in diabetes research. Diabetes research is a particular strength of the Section of Adult and Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and of The University of Chicago in general. Our physicians and researchers are known for their advanced research and innovative treatments for people with diabetes. Many of the fundamental discoveries were made by Chicago faculty members early in this century. In 1967, Dr. Donald Steiner discovered proinsulin – the immediate precursor of insulin – which led to the development of new techniques for measuring insulin secretion in humans and laid the scientific groundwork for the production of human insulin by recombinant DNA technology, the standard method by which insulin is produced today.

For the nearly past three decades the Section of Adult and Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism has been the recipient of an NIH-funded Diabetes Research and Training Center. The Diabetes Research and Training Center's core laboratories include the Ligand Assay Core, Islet Cell Biology Core, the Molecular Biology and Genetics, Transgenic Core, and the Physiology Core. Each of these laboratories functions at a high capacity and provide services to investigators at The University of Chicago, as well as other institutions.

Diabetes Mellitus Research

The University of Chicago DRTC has been at the forefront of genetic studies of diabetes mellitus. It recently determined the genetic basis of one form of permanent neonatal diabetes mellitus due to complete deficiency of glucokinase (Njølstad 2001) and was responsible for four of the six forms of maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY). The University of Chicago also has a strong program in pancreatic ß-cell biology. Basic investigations of ß-cell function at the molecular level are stressed.

Thyroid Research

Thyroid research is another important strength of the Section of Adult and Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. Dr. Refetoff, Cohen, and Dumitrescu are NIH-funded investigators working in various aspects of thyroid research. Together, they form an invaluable training resource to incoming fellows as well as provide a firm intellectual basis for fostering new clinical and translational research projects. The Thyroid Research Group interacts through an organized series of seminars and laboratory meetings in order to promote direct interaction among faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and laboratory staff for ongoing critical review and feedback. Our faculty members have achieved major breakthroughs in treatment protocols for thyroid cancer, thyroid autoimmunity and the treatment of congenital thyroid diseases. Dr. Samuel Refetoff developed protocols for the investigation of inherited thyroids diseases and his study of resistance to thyroid hormone has been adopted world-wide. Dr. Refetoff, one of the world’s foremost thyroid specialists, discovered and determined the molecular basis of a genetic thyroid disease known as Resistance to Thyroid Hormone (Refetoff Syndrome). Most recently, together with Dr. Dumitrescu, he showed that a defect causing severe psychomotor and thyroid abnormalities is caused by mutations in the thyroid hormone transporter, MCT8. Work is in progress to develop a treatment for this crippling condition. Together with Drs Dumitrescu the first genetic defect of thyroid hormone metabolism was recently identified. Former Chiefs of Endocrinology are world-renown thyroidologists including Dr. Leslie J. DeGroot (author of DeGroot and Jamieson Textbook of Endocrinology) and Fredric E. Wondisford, M.D. who developed a synthetic version of a human thyroid stimulating hormone which has revolutionized the treatment of thyroid cancer, and Roy Weiss, MD, PhD. Trainees of the Thyroid Study Unit have become leaders in academic medicine in the USA and abroad.