USF Health opens new family-centered Diabetes Center

Day-long celebration includes announcement of two new multimillion grants for diabetes research

To cheers, applause and the snip of scissors across green satin ribbon, USF’s long-standing diabetes program ceremoniously opened its new facility Nov. 14 – World Diabetes Day – on the fifth floor of the Carol & Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare.

Families coping with diabetes, community supporters, elected officials, local media, physicians, researchers and support staff crowded into the new Center’s lobby in the morning, craning to see for themselves the opening of a comprehensive center that integrates patient-centered care, education and research with innovative design and state-of-the-art technology.

 Along with the good news of the Center’s new 10,000-square-foot home, the day included announcements of two new grants for diabetes research:  a $3.5 million grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and a $55.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Today we celebrate a major milestone in our vision to cure diabetes, while dramatically and more immediately improving the lives of those affected by the disease,” said Henry Rodriguez, MD, medical director of the Center. “Our journey began many years ago with the pioneering work of Dr. John Malone and Dr. Anthony Morrison. Our achievement today is made possible with the leadership of Dr. Jeffrey Krischer and the shared vision and efforts of many.”

In addition to USF and USF Health leadership, Dr. Rodriguez recognized the founding families whose “wealth, wisdom and work helped transform our shared vision into reality.”

Dr. Henry Rodriguez, medical director of the USF Diabetes Center

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor shared in the celebration, calling the Center a leader in health innovation for the Tampa Bay area.

“Diabetes research here at the USF Diabetes Center is leading the way,” Castor said. “You can be proud that this is a place where all families can come to feel safe and comfortable, to be inspired, to work on a cure and to work on treatments. We’re going to ensure that the commitment to this diabetes center continues and that the University of South Florida remains a premiere health innovation capitol, particularly when it comes to diabetes research.”

U.S. Rep Kathy Castor of Tampa with Dr. John Malone, co-founder of
the USF Diabetes Center.

Dr. Krischer, director of the USF Diabetes Center, announced the two major grants that will help further propel USF’s diabetes research efforts. 

The first — a three-year, $3.5 million grant from JDRF — will help researchers determine whether earlier diagnosis and intervention leads to improved long-term outcomes for children and adults with Type 1 diabetes.

The second — a five-year $55.9 million grant from the NIH – will  build upon preliminary findings from TEDDY, or The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young study, which is investigating the role that diet, infections and other environmental factors may play in triggering autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes.

Dr. Jeffrey Krischer, director of the USF Diabetes Center, accepts from
JDRF officials a representation of the foundation’s  $3.5 million check
funding diabetes research.

“This new grant will help initiate a new era of discovery in looking at causes related to diabetes,” said Dr. Krischer, the pediatric endocrinologist who led the effort to build the Center. “It will enable us to apply human genomics, metabalomics and epigenetics – all cutting edge science – to new investigations of gene-environment interactions as potential contributors to the development of Type 1 diabetes.”

Stephen Klasko, MD, MBA, senior vice president of USF Health, spoke about the generous support the Center has had and thanked the many in attendance for their continued support, including Rep. Castor, Florida Rep. Shawn Harrison, the USF Board of Trustees Gene Engle, Debbie Sembler, and Stephen Mitchell, Barbara and Roger Monsour, among many others.

He then turned his attention to the founding of the center.

Local media covered the event.

“Everyone agreed to the needs that should be met at an academic institution,” Dr. Klasko said. “We started with a vision that included bringing in Dr. Jeff Krischer, the world’s top diabetes researcher. Then we brought in Dr. Henry Rodriguez to start the clinical research operations. But this entire center is based on what patients wanted. It is about the patients.”

USF President Judy Genshaft could not attend but presented her congratulatory message surrounded by young patients with diabetes via video.

“The Center gives us the opportunity to lead the search for a cure for this terrible disease,” she said. “This did not begin today and it will not end tomorrow. We are building the finest Center backed with more than $400 million in research funding and leading a world-wide search for a cure.”

Mayor Bob Buckhorn recognized USF’s  vital contributions in combating
diabetes and declared Nov. 14, 2011 “World Diabetes Day” in the City of Tampa.

City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn shared his thanks and congratulations and delivered a Proclamation naming Nov. 14, 2011 World Diabetes Day in the City of Tampa

“Thank you for all that you do for diabetes,” Buckhorn said. “Dr. Krischer, congratulations and keep up the good work. We’re proud of you.”

Guests then toured the facility and enjoyed a variety of appetizers prepared by Carmel Café that were samples of foods patient with diabetes could easily prepare on their own.

Building upon its foundation as an internationally-recognized center for diabetes and related autoimmune research, USF uniquely designed the center to promote progress towards a cure and support patients and families in their daily management of diabetes.

Unique to the center is an in-house kitchen, where the dietitian and invited chefs can teach patients and their families how to prepare healthy foods.

The expanded USF Diabetes Center houses:

• Several exam rooms, including two that include provisions for drug infusion therapy
• Encounter rooms where the center’s clinical psychologist and other staff can meet with patients and family members
• An in-house studio kitchen where the center’s dietitian and invited chefs can demonstrate how to prepare healthy meals
• A dedicated phlebotomy room and laboratory for preparing patient samples
• A multimedia center with kiosks and computers, where patients can download data about their blood sugar levels from insulin pumps
• A playroom

Unique to the new USF Diabetes Center is the Famous Tate Teaching Kitchen, where hands-on teaching by dietitians will help patients and their families understand the nuances for maintaining good nutrition and dietary habits to successfully manage their disease.

Emma Donahue (far right), 16, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, with her siblings, left to right, Trevor, Caroline, Gabriela, and Alexandria. The entire Donahue family benefits from the comprehensive services of the USF Diabetes Center.

“Everything I need for my diabetes health and care is all here in one place,” said Emma Donahue, 16, a patient at the USF Diabetes Center who attended the celebration.  “There’s tons of new information and people who care about you, as well as everybody else affected by diabetes, like your family.”

Emma has type 1 diabetes, which requires a lifelong commitment to daily insulin injections and significant lifestyle changes.  Her sisters, Caroline, 12, and Gabriela, 9, are enrolled through the USF Diabetes Center in TrialNet, a study to learn more about how type 1 diabetes develops in at-risk individuals, including siblings of those diagnosed with type 1.

At the afternoon festivities for patients and family members, kids got
to write on the sidewalks outside the Morsani Center with washable chalk (above).   And scale an inflatable rock climbing wall (below).

Brian Donahue, Emma’s father, said that in addition to helping the family support the shorter term physiological and psychological needs of his daughter, the USF Diabetes Center provides opportunities to participate in leading clinical research that may lead to a cure.

“The beauty of the USF Diabetes Center is that it marries the research with the clinical care,” Donahue said. “It’s exciting to hear about all the research Dr. Krischer is doing… I’m not a betting man, but I think in the next 20 years we’ll probably lick this disease.  We want to be part of the team.”

Dr. Stephen Klasko (center), CEO of USF Health and medical dean, was D.J. for the afternoon. USF Athletic Director Doug Woolard (left) and USF Bulls Head Football Coach Skip Holtz (right) stopped by the celebration.

The day’s activities included afternoon festivities for patients and their families, including music spun by D.J. Dr. Stephen Klasko, a rock climbing wall and a visit by USF Bulls Football Coach Skip Holtz and the USF Show Band.  As dusk fell, the crowd burst into applause as the façade of the Morsani Center was lit blue to mark World Diabetes Day — and a  milestone in the achievements of the USF Diabetes Center. 

– Story by Sarah Worth and Anne DeLotto Baier, photos by Eric Younghans, and video by Amy Mariani, USF Health Communications

To mark World Diabetes Day the facade of the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare, the new home of the USF Diabetes Center, was illuminated blue.