Leading the Way in Discoveries

UCSF has always been at the forefront of diabetes research. Our basic and clinical researchers have led developments in treatment and care of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

  • Body fat discovery: In the early 1960s, UCSF researchers were the first to link type 2 diabetes with obesity.
  • Bioengineering breakthrough: A team of UCSF investigators cloned the gene that produces human insulin in 1979.
  • Insulin trials: In the 1980s, UCSF coordinated the first multi-center clinical trial of human insulin.
  • Stem cells: UCSF researcher Gail Martin co-discovered and coined the term “embryonic stem cells” in her laboratory in 1981.
  • Risk detection: In the 1990s, UCSF scientists identified autoimmune predictors of type 1 diabetes.
  • Investigational treatments: In the early 2000s, the Diabetes Center initiated clinical trials of experimental antibodies, investigating their ability to halt autoimmune destruction of beta cells in type 1 diabetes.
  • Type 1 diabetes milestone: One of the experimental antibodies developed by UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dr. Jeffrey Bluestone, anti-CD3, was embraced by private industry in the fall of 2007. It is the furthest that an exclusively type 1 therapy has progressed in drug development and commercialization.

With our rich history of breakthrough discoveries, we have attracted numerous world leaders to our team. With this renewed energy and experience, our researchers’ commitment to the cure is stronger than ever. From identifying and analyzing genes that predispose individuals to diabetes, to early interventions that stop diabetes in its tracks, our researchers are on the cutting edge of finding treatments and cures for those living with this disease.

bluestone teachingHarnessing New Knowledge Through Basic Research

In our basic science labs, we are pursuing research whose purpose is to generate understanding. In a speech to the United States Senate in 1979, Dr. Bluestone stated, “The exciting clinical opportunities we see today are a reflection of the much deeper understanding of our immune system that has been generated by fundamental research discoveries. Often overlooked are the basic discoveries that reveal central processes at work in diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. It is this basic scientific research that continues to be the engine that drives our progress toward eliminating diabetes.”

To accelerate the pace of discovery, our principal investigators and their labs are focused on a number of research areas which will have a significant impact for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes:

Protecting Insulin-Producing Beta Cells in Autoimmune Type 1 Diabetes

  • How immune cells target and attack beta cells.
  • The role that inflammation plays in beta cell destruction.
  • The mechanisms of immune tolerance in autoimmunity and transplantation.
  • Novel immunosuppressive regimens to prevent the body’s immune response to islet cell transplantation.

Creating a Source of Beta Cells for Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

  • Signaling pathways in beta cell development.
  • The transformation of stem cells to beta cells.
  • Transgenic mouse models to investigate beta cell regeneration.

Preventing and Curing Type 2 Diabetes

  • Genes that control obesity and contribute to type 2 diabetes.
  • How obesity can alter molecular pathways of insulin utilization.
  • How the brain regulates body weight, energy stores, and glucose levels.
  • Proteins found to increase insulin resistance and impair glucose tolerance.
  • The effect of molecular stress on beta cells in type 2 diabetes.
  • MicroRNAs, the “dark matter” of the genome that controls most of the genes in the body, to create new drugs to treat and cure diabetes.
Translating Basic Research to Clinical Application

Our researchers are focused on taking laboratory bench research to the patient’s bedside as quickly as possible. Whenever possible, we take the knowledge gained in the lab and lay the groundwork needed to develop a clinical trial in humans.

Anti-CD3, a drug developed by UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jeffrey Bluestone that protects beta cells, is one of our most recent and well-known translational efforts. Numerous clinical trials have evolved from this effort and, in 2007, private industry jumped on the bandwagon to help commercialize this drug and take it to market. After nearly 20 years of planning, a clinical trial involving anti-CD3 was recently launched to prevent diabetes in relatives of those with type 1 diabetes who are at risk (those testing positively for antibodies but who still have beta cell function).

This year, we launched the world’s first human clinical trial using an individual’s own regulatory T cells for the treatment of type 1 diabetes. By increasing the number of these regulatory immune cells in new onset patients, we hope to halt beta cell destruction and bypass the potential side effects and toxicities of drug therapy.

As Science Succeeds, Patients Benefit

Collectively, our researchers are turning laboratory dreams into lifesaving realities for people living with diabetes.

For the past decade, we’ve been active in the world of diabetes clinical trials, serving as one of only a handful of diabetes facilities designated as a clinical site of the Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded initiative to develop preventative therapies and treatments for type 1 diabetes.

In addition, we are also the home of the Immune Tolerance Network, one of the largest clinical research programs ever funded by the NIH and home to some of the most progressive diabetes trials in the world.

Our active clinical research program means that our patients have early access to new technologies and treatment options, and new strategies for diagnosing and managing diabetes.

Participation in clinical trials is critically important for the future of diabetes prevention and management. For more information, consult the clinical trials section of our website.

We would also like to thank LifeScan for their research support to the Diabetes Center from the Investigator-Initiated Study Program of LifeScan, Inc.


Additional Research Resources

Faculty List & Publications

Training Opportunities

eUpdate Electronic Newsletter

Diabetes Links