Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Center for Diabetes and Metabolism

History

The Center for Diabetes and Metabolism has a long history of education and leadership in our areas of research. The following outlines the discoveries and accomplishments of Feinberg faculty who’ve made an impact on discovery in our field and helped push the science forward.

Diabetes During Pregnancy

In the 1960s, Northwestern established itself as a leader in studying the impact of diabetes on maternal-child health. Through pioneering work led by Dr. Norbert Freinkel, some of the first treatment programs for pregnant women with diabetes were developed, which helped to dramatically lower complications in both mothers and their children.  Further work by Dr. Freinkel focused on understanding why some women develop gestational diabetes, i.e., diabetes which develops during pregnancy.  During Dr. Freinkel’s career, he worked with many other Northwestern University physicians and scientists including Boyd Metzger, MD, who established the current guidelines for the diagnosis of gestational diabetes through a large multicenter clinical study.  An outgrowth of this study was a large genetic study which identified novel genetic links to gestational glucose metabolism.  Ongoing translational research studies at Northwestern are seeking to further explore these novel genetic links to gestational glucose metabolism and enhance our understanding of maternal metabolism during pregnancy and its interaction with fetal growth. 

Circadian Clock and Metabolism

Northwestern researchers were the first to understand, at the gene level, that disrupting our internal clocks can lead to diseases such as obesity and diabetes, revolutionizing the direction of future research.  A breakthrough in the field of body clocks and diabetes began at Northwestern 20 years ago with the discovery that mutation of the gene encoding the transcription factor CLOCK leads to altered sleep, feeding activity, obesity and diabetes (Science 2005). Subsequent work has shown the clock genes, which maintain internal timing of our sleep-wake cycle with the light-dark cycle, also play a key role in insulin secretion through regulation of genes essential in pancreatic beta cell function (Nature 2010, 2012; Science 2015). The clock also plays a major role in adjusting whole body metabolism in response to nutrient through the control of pathways involving the pivotal energy carrier molecule and therapeutic target NAD+ (Science 2009, 2013). Our diabetes center is at the forefront of combining genetic, genomic, and physiologic studies to understand how the body clock and sleep impact glucose homeostasis in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.  New drug pathways have begun to emerge from this endeavor that may some day improve the treatment of diabetes.