Woodruff Health Sciences Center establishes Emory Global Diabetes Research Center

The Woodruff Health Sciences Center and Emory University are building upon the fundamental and critical research and work conducted by the Global Diabetes Research Center at the Rollins School of Public Health and across the campus to establish the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center (EGDRC) of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory University. Under the continued leadership of executive director K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, and co-director Mohammed K. Ali, MD, the center will broaden and grow its work to lessen the burden of diabetes and related non-communicable diseases domestically and globally through research, education and outreach.

The EGDRC will expand its multi-pronged approach to address the problem of diabetes and its associated complications through integrating innovative investigations into the causes and cures for the disease. This includes groundbreaking techniques to explore the root causes of the disease as well as precise ways to personalize medicine for diabetes, interventions to prevent the disease, applications of advanced technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) to improve care delivery, and public health and policy approaches for improving the quality of care and health equity. 

“Integrating the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center within the Woodruff Health Sciences Center enhances our tripartite mission of education, research and patient care focused on improving lives and providing hope,” says Jonathan S. Lewin, MD, Emory’s executive vice president of health affairs, executive director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and CEO of Emory Healthcare. “In leveraging innovative research across multiple disciplines, the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center will continue advancing diabetes research at Emory that will ultimately benefit our local population and improve the health of those impacted by diabetes around the world.” 

Diabetes is a major global and national health challenge, affecting more than 537 million people worldwide and over 37 million in the U.S., where it is the leading cause of rising health care costs. Because the prevention and treatment of diabetes pose interdisciplinary challenges, the goal of the EGDRC is to promote active, cross-disciplinary diabetes research collaborations with the center’s substantive national and global networks and throughout Emory in the schools of medicine, public health and nursing; the Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; Emory Healthcare and beyond. 

“The Emory Global Diabetes Research Center leverages Emory’s deep knowledge and ingenuity to mount a concerted global effort against a disease that impacts millions of adults and children worldwide,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “By convening experts from across the world to seek a cure, expand prevention and improve quality of life, Emory is embarking on a true mission to serve humanity.” 

Narayan first established the Global Diabetes Research Center at the Rollins School of Public Health in 2008. Beginning with just one NIH-funded diabetes researcher, the center has steadily grown to 150 faculty members today, with representatives from across Emory’s schools of public health, medicine and nursing, as well as the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory College of Arts and Sciences. 

“Diabetes is a complex disease that affects every organ in the body,” says Narayan, Ruth and O.C. Hubert Chair in Global Health at the Rollins School of Public Health, and professor of endocrinology at Emory School of Medicine. “At the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center, we seek to build the capacity of domestic and global interdisciplinary research across basic and clinical sciences, public health, engineering and the humanities to better understand its causes and consequences, investigate prevention and treatment measures and inform health policy.” 

In the years since its founding, the center has emerged as internationally preeminent in the field of diabetes and cardiometabolic disease research. EGDRC faculty and staff members are involved in investigative collaborations in 21 countries throughout North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Notably, researchers participate in 24 collaborative network sites in India alone. The center maintains a longstanding relationship with several leading institutions in India and has worked with its Indian collaborators to spearhead the Precision-CARRS cohort, a study of 22,000 adults that will provide critical insights into the prevention of diabetes and cardiometabolic diseases. The EGDRC also has notable and growing collaborations on three other continents.

“If you look at all the centers around the U.S. that study diabetes and chronic noncommunicable diseases, really, there isn’t one as focused on that global agenda as we are,” says Ali, vice chair of research and professor of family and preventive medicine at Emory University’s School of Medicine, and professor of global health and epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health. “Elevating the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center to a university- and Woodruff Health Sciences-wide center will expand our reach and impact on people and populations even further.”

The collective research of EGDRC faculty and staff has garnered more than $150 million in funding and resulted in nearly 1,000 peer-reviewed papers published in high-impact journals. Continued support from the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and Emory University will provide further opportunities for growth — for example, through the recruitment and retention of talented faculty from areas including basic sciences, behavioral economics, data science and AI.

A key pillar of this expansion is the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Strategic Diabetes Initiative, launched in 2020 with the support of the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs. A search committee established through the initiative has already recruited seven new and highly talented diabetes researchers to the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and will continue to provide coordinated leadership to all diabetes research groups at Emory. 

The EGDRC also cultivates close collaborations at national and local levels with an emphasis on health equity, including its work as part of Georgia Center for Diabetes Translation Research (GCDTR). Founded in 2015, the GCDTR is a NIH-funded joint effort led by Emory, Morehouse School of Medicine and the Georgia Institute of Technology that focuses on domestic diabetes research and development of junior investigators. GCDTR was renewed with a five-year NIH award of nearly $4 million and has also recently won additional supplements of approximately $9 million for work seeking to increase COVID-19 testing and vaccination for underserved people affected by diabetes in Georgia. 

“The elevation of Emory Global Diabetes Research Center as an operational unit of Woodruff Health Sciences Center, and as a university priority with campus-wide impact, is a major recognition from Emory University of the importance of diabetes,” Narayan says. “This arrangement and the priority it will bring will enable the center to take on even bolder initiatives to arrest the relentless tide of diabetes in Georgia, in the U.S. and across the world.” 

About:

K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, MSC, MBA, is Ruth and O.C. Hubert Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health and a professor of medicine and endocrinology at Emory University School of Medicine. A leading international diabetes expert, a member of the National Academy of Medicine he serves on the Committee of the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Narayan is noted for substantial, multidisciplinary work in diabetes and noncommunicable diseases (NCD) epidemiology, pathophysiology, translation research and public health. He has been involved in several major national and international multi-center epidemiological studies, randomized controlled trials, public health surveillance, translation research and health policy studies. He is currently also exploring pancreatic beta cell biology and intriguing differences in the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes in Asian, African, Native American and developing countries’ populations globally. With more than 550 publications, including several high-impact studies, and over 185,000 citations, his work exemplifies his global leadership and influence in diabetes and NCD science and public health. 

Mohammed K. Ali, MD, MSC, MBA, is vice chair of research and professor of family and preventive medicine at Emory University’s School of Medicine, and professor of global health and epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health. A Rhodes Scholar, primary care physician, and global implementation scientist, Ali has master’s training in cardiovascular medicine, global health, and business and management. He has designed and led a number of studies worldwide that investigate the natural history of diseases as well as evaluations of clinical, community, and system interventions and policies that optimize diabetes and vascular health and equity for patients and populations. He has served as a scientific advisor for the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation since 2010 and has led or contributed to reports for the World Health Organization, World Bank, and National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

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