Early Pathogenesis of Cystic Fibrosis Related Diabetes

October 2021

John Engelhardt, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, and Andrew Norris, MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics and Biochemistry and Associate Director of the FOE Diabetes Research Center (DRC), have just been awarded a three-year, $4.5M research grant from the NIH's National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The project will investigate the changes that occur in insulin producing cells that are affected by cystic fibrosis (CF).

CF is a life-threatening genetic condition that affects roughly 30,000 Americans. Over half of persons with cystic fibrosis will develop diabetes. Drs. Engelhardt and Norris recently discovered that humans and ferrets with CF experience a loss of beta-cells early in life followed by a reappearance of beta-cells. These "reborn" beta-cells often function for decades before diabetes eventually occurs. What is not known is how the beta-cells are reborn. To address this knowledge gap, the group has created new genetic models that enable cells of the ferret to be tracked over time. Possibilities include that the "reborn" beta-cells come from prior beta-cells or alternatively come from other pancreatic structures.  Answering this question could provide insight into how new beta-cells can be formed and might help identify new therapies for other forms of diabetes.  The University of Iowa team includes pancreas expert Dr. Aliye Uc, Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology, and Dr. Xingshen Sun, Research Assistant Professor. To further the research, the grant will support collaboration with Dr. Lori Sussel, beta-cell biology expert and Research Director at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes located in Denver, Colorado.

View all director's reports