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Diabetes Discoveries & Practice Blog

What Health Care Professionals Should Know About NIDDK Research

A doctor and patient

Learn how NIDDK research contributes to the care you provide patients with diabetes.

Diabetes is a major research focus for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which works to uncover the most effective diabetes prevention and treatment strategies. Get answers to questions about NIDDK research below and see how it contributes to the care you provide patients with diabetes.

Q: Why is diabetes research important?

A: Research is needed to reduce the prevalence and impact of diabetes, which is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. About 37 million people in the United States have diabetes, a number that continues to rise. Another 96 million adults have prediabetes. Having diabetes can reduce quality of life, lead to high health care costs, and increase the risk of other chronic diseases such as kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.

The increasing prevalence of diabetes raises important research questions: What is causing the rising rates of diabetes? What prevention strategies are best suited to reverse these trends? What treatments can help people with prediabetes or diabetes to live their best lives?

People with lower incomes or from racial and ethnic groups that have historically faced discrimination are more likely to develop diabetes and related health problems. Research on the social determinants of health is important to help inform public policy and improve health care practices for all people with diabetes.

Q: What kind of diabetes research does the NIDDK support?

A: The NIDDK supports both basic research, which seeks answers to fundamental questions about the body’s metabolism and microbiome and the causes and progression of diabetes, and clinical research, which uncovers information that translates directly into disease prevention and treatment strategies.

While some research funding is focused on diabetes, the NIDDK also supports research into related diseases such as obesity and kidney disease. Other research explores topics such as genetics and nutrition that are important for the overall understanding of disease prevention and treatment.

Q: How are patients benefitting from diabetes research supported by the NIDDK?

A: Clinical trials supported by the NIDDK have led to insights that are improving health outcomes for patients with diabetes. The landmark Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study showed that people who are at high risk for type 2 diabetes may be able to prevent or delay the disease by losing 5% to 7% of their starting body weight through lifestyle changes such as eating fewer calories and increasing their physical activity. The DPP also demonstrated that taking metformin, a safe and effective generic diabetes medicine, can help prevent diabetes, though to a lesser degree than lifestyle changes. The follow-up DPP Outcomes Study is continuing to uncover more about effective strategies to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.

Basic research supported by the NIDDK led to the development of two newer classes of medications for type 2 diabetes, GLP-1 receptor agonists and SGLT2 inhibitors. These two classes of medications are now included in the American Diabetes Association’s updated Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes and have been found to offer protection against kidney disease and heart disease for patients with diabetes.

Q: Can I refer patients with diabetes to clinical trials?

A: Yes. Your patients who volunteer to join a clinical trial may enjoy knowing that they are helping to advance human health for themselves and others. Participating in clinical trials may also provide your patients with standard care or access to experimental treatments.

NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers explains the importance of participating in clinical trials.

Q: What kind of patients can I refer to a clinical trial?

A: Many of your patients may be eligible to join a clinical trial. A diverse range of participants is needed to help researchers determine how race, age, gender, and physical size and ability affect how a disease progresses and how well treatments work.

For example, one study is currently enrolling participants to test a lifestyle-based telehealth intervention for young adults with type 1 diabetes. Another study is testing an app designed to improve glycemic control for young adults with type 1 diabetes. A third study is looking at the effectiveness of certain diabetes medicines for African American youth with type 2 diabetes. Each study has guidelines and a review board to ensure the safety of volunteers.

You can help your patients search for NIDDK-funded clinical trials that are recruiting patients at ClinicalTrials.govYou can use the filters on the website to further refine searches based on age, gender, and type of study.

Q: How can health care professionals benefit from other NIDDK resources?

A: The NIDDK supports the career development of health care professionals through training opportunities for medical students, postdoctoral fellows, physician scientists, junior faculty, and established research investigators. The NIDDK also participates in projects to promote diversity in health care and research, and provides funding opportunities for small businesses. Additional programs and funding opportunities are available through the NIH Common Fund.

Health care professionals can also keep track of research developments and the implications for clinical practice by subscribing to the Diabetes Discoveries & Practice Blog.


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