Diabetes Research Programs

At the forefront of advancing research toward a cure for diabetes, OU Health Harold Hamm Diabetes Center addresses key issues and seeks solutions that help you and your loved ones live well with this challenging condition.

Three Paths to a Cure

Hamm Diabetes Center research programs span diverse disciplines and focus primarily on examining the causes and complications of diabetes to help identify better or new prevention strategies, treatments and, ultimately, a cure for diabetes.

Three paths to a curve infographic

Multidisciplinary Approach to Research Programs

Over the last decade, researchers and clinicians from multiple healthcare disciplines at OU Health Harold Hamm Diabetes Center have brought more than $100 million in outside grant funding to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, American Diabetes Association, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), American Heart Association and others.

Key Areas of Investigation

  • Fetal and childhood origins of obesity and diabetes: The first 1,000 days – Development of many adult diseases, including adult-onset Type 2 diabetes, can be influenced by factors present before birth, while a child is still in their mother’s womb, as well as throughout early childhood years. Infants triple their fat mass from birth through the first year of life. Half of childhood obesity occurs by age 5, strongly supporting the premise that early intrauterine/postnatal exposure contributes to metabolic risk in offspring. This may be rooted, in part, by a mother’s metabolism, especially when she is overweight or obese, has gestational diabetes or has poor intake of certain fats and sugars. Researchers at Harold Hamm Diabetes Center work to identify how these changes are triggered in utero or in young children and how they can be reversed or prevented. Determining how nutritional exposures beginning in mothers affects these factors in the first 1,000 days, if harnessed for clinical application, could revolutionize the prevention of obesity and diabetes in Oklahomans by interrupting a vicious cycle across generations.

  • Gestational diabetes and obesity: Impact on health of mother and infant – Researchers are studying how gestational diabetes (affecting 1 in 5) and maternal obesity (affecting 1 in 2) impact development of fetal growth, obesity and diabetes in the next generation. The goal of these studies is to define the pathways leading to these conditions and the knowledge that will help develop preventive measures, including new dietary factors and key targets for prevention beyond glucose.

  • Maternal obesity and the infant microbiome: The undiscovered community within – Throughout the western world, a poor diet, particularly in obese mothers or those with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), leads to changes in the mother’s bacteria and in the infant microbiome that can persist even after switching to a healthy diet after weaning. Strong links exist between the gut microbiota and development and/or exacerbation of childhood non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a chronic disease affecting over one-third of obese children and 80% of obese adults. How maternal diet and microbes alter development of inflammation is not well understood but underlies many metabolic diseases including obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease. Our current studies focus on nutrition and pregnancy, gastrointestinal (GI) microbiology and/or role of the human microbiome and its metabolites in prevention/progression of both Type I and Type 2 diabetes in youth. On the horizon are new therapies aimed at correcting a disordered infant microbiome that hold the promise of preventing diabetes and protecting from NAFLD.

  • Diabetes and cancer – Individuals with diabetes have an increased risk for certain cancers, including those in the breast, uterus, liver and pancreas. Scientists are still unsure why, but early programming of the immune system’s ability to fight off the first cancer cells may be to blame. In addition, several cancer treatments, including those for breast and prostate, increase the likelihood of a person developing diabetes later in life. While many factors are considered responsible for the cause/relationship between diabetes and cancer, conclusive answers and clearly defined pathways forward remain elusive for researchers. The link between cancer and diabetes is still obscure.
  • Immunoengineering – The ultimate goal of immune engineering is to harness the exquisite specificity of the immune system to prevent and treat disease, often focusing on metabolic endpoints in specific cell types. Combining the assets of Stephenson Cancer Center, Stephenson School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) and Harold Hamm Diabetes Center creates a synergistic strength that is unique nationwide. Our goals are to integrate cancer biologists and diabetes experts who have a common interest in how cellular metabolism influences cell function to develop novel therapies. This interdisciplinary gathering of immunologists and scientists focusing on cancer will reveal novel and integrated mechanistic underpinnings that lead to cancer progression/regression and metastasis, focusing on specific cancer cell types.
  • Protecting the pancreas – Our team will use machine learning in established databases for diabetes to understand how changes in the microbiome predict full development of Type 1 diabetes. We will also expand a new technology developed in mice, in which we can potentially target proteins responsible for the destruction of the pancreas using a vaccine. Applying advanced computational technology to existing data is the first step necessary to stop the immune attack and prevent Type 1 diabetes. If we determine the attack is mediated by a dysfunctional microbiome, a lifestyle or pharmacological intervention could prevent disease even earlier in life.

A close up of a map

  • Diabetes in Native Americans – Obesity and Type 2 diabetes affect Native Americans disproportionately when compared to all other ethnic groups, with almost half eventually developing diabetes and related complications. Several NIH studies have resulted from collaborative partnerships with tribal nations across the state, aimed at better understanding the relationship between Native Americans and the high incidence of diabetes.
  • Causes and prevention of diabetic complications – Many people with diabetes develop other life-altering, and often fatal, diseases directly caused by diabetes, including heart disease, kidney failure and diabetic eye disease. Several of the Center’s basic research groups examine causes of these devastating diabetes complications and how to prevent them. New therapies and techniques are being tested and developed that have the potential for stopping diabetes-related blindness and vision loss. One study is developing a therapeutic treatment for diabetes-related eye diseases, while another is focusing on promoting early detection through a newly developed retina-screening device.

Additional Areas of Research Interest

  • Metabolomics; early stem cell development of obesity
  • Diabetes management in young adults transitioning from pediatric to adult care
  • Type 2 diabetes prevention intervention strategies

OU Health Harold Hamm Diabetes Center and the Children’s Hospital Foundation partner with the Pediatric Metabolic Research Program at the University of Oklahoma to be Oklahoma's leader in diabetes and metabolic research for children. The program seeks to understand the causes, prevention and cures of childhood diabetes and related metabolic problems. Visit the program’s website to learn more.

Translating Research Discoveries into Advanced Patient Care

New knowledge emanating from our research programs is being translated into improved patient care by the clinical team at OU Health Harold Hamm Diabetes Center.

Hamm Diabetes Center supports the largest group of adult and pediatric endocrinologists in Oklahoma and the region focused on diabetes specialty care, as well as a comprehensive team of certified diabetes educators, dieticians, nutritionists, behavioral health specialists, exercise physiologists and more.

In collaboration with OU Health Physicians, the state’s largest physician group encompassing almost every adult and child specialty, individuals living with diabetes and their families who work with Harold Hamm Diabetes Center gain access to the variety of other specialty care often needed to prevent and treat diabetes-related complications.

More About Diabetes Center Research

Find out more about research at OU Health Harold Hamm Diabetes Center:

Diabetes Clinical Trials in Oklahoma City & Tulsa

You may qualify to join a clinical trial at OU Health Harold Hamm Diabetes Center in Oklahoma City, whether or not you live with diabetes. Enroll in our Volunteer Registry to receive up-to-date information on clinical trials of potential interest to you, with no obligation to participate.

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