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Joslin Research Milestones

1894: While still a student at Harvard Medical School, Elliott P. Joslin publishes his first paper on diabetes.

1906-12: Elliott P. Joslin, M.D., does experimental work on how people with and without diabetes burn food as fuel. He observes the effect of fasting and different amounts and combinations of carbohydrates, proteins and fats on diabetes.

Late 1920s: Joslin researchers publish papers on new ways to treat diabetic coma, and medical and surgical ways to save feet and legs from amputation due to diabetic complications.

1949: The  pioneering pregnancy studies of Priscilla White, M.D., show the importance of strict blood glucose control and early delivery for fetal survival.

Late 1950s: Joslin physicians participate in testing oral medications to control type 2 diabetes.

1962: Using newly available radioimmunoassays to track the course of insulin through the body, Joslin researchers perform a wide range of classic studies on glucose metabolism.

1967: A laser treatment (Ruby laser photocoagulation) is developed by William Beetham, M.D., and Lloyd M. Aiello, M.D., which within the next five years revolutionizes the care of diabetic retinopathy, a potentially blinding complication of diabetes.

1976: Joslin researchers perfect the A1C test, paving the way for this blood test to assess blood glucose control over a two- to three-month period.

1980s: Basic research at Joslin shows that type 1 diabetes evolves over a period of years, presenting hope that a means may be found to prevent autoimmune destruction of the pancreas’ beta cells before they stop producing insulin.

1980s: Joslin researchers also find that people with early signs of insulin resistance were likely to develop type 2 diabetes—unless they lose weight.

1989: George King, M.D., and colleagues demonstrate that high blood glucose levels activate protein kinase C (PKC), part of a major signaling pathway that causes cellular changes in the eye, kidney and arteries that lead to diabetic complications.

1996: A molecular pathway (called NF-kB) is identified in fat and the liver that is activated by obesity (and a fatty diet) and causes the insulin resistance that can lead to type 2 diabetes (Steven E. Shoelson, M.D., Ph.D.).

1997: Joslin researchers demonstrate that injection of a growth factor called VEGF activates PKC in the retina, leading to damaged blood vessels and bleeding into the eye. They find also that the PKC inhibitor appears to stop this (George L. King, M.D., and Lloyd P. Aiello, M.D., Ph.D.).

1997: King lab also finds that PKC inhibitor improves certain heart dysfunction and kidney disease that are related to high blood glucose.

2000: Researchers discover a way to encourage pancreas cells that do not normally produce insulin to become insulin-producing cells.
Susan Bonner-Weir, Ph.D, and Gordon C. Weir, M.D.

2000: Insulin signaling in the brain is linked to type 2 diabetes, appetite control, obesity and even infertility.
Dr. C. Ronald Kahn and colleagues

2003: Researchers find that mice that were genetically altered to have fat that did not respond to insulin could overeat without gaining weight, becoming protected against obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Kahn’s lab

2003: Investigators discover in type 1 diabetic patients that early signs of kidney disease (microalbuminuria) can be reversed back to normal with proper medical screening and diabetes control.
Andrzej Krolewski, M.D., Ph.D., and Bruce Perkins, M.D., M.P.H.

2005: Scientists demonstrate that when people gain weight, they activate a “master switch” (known as NF-kB), which triggers the inflammation pathway that leads to insulin resistance. Aspirin-like anti-inflammatory drugs can turn off this response.
Steven Shoelson, M.D., Ph.D.  

2005: Research shows that poor prenatal nutrition permanently damages the function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, raising the risk that the child will later develop type 2 diabetes.
Mary-Elizabeth Patti, M.D.

2006: A Joslin-led study documents for the first time subtle changes in the gray matter of the brain of type 1 diabetes patients compared to control subjects who did not have diabetes.
Alan Jacobson, M.D.

2007: Joslin researchers discover a protein that causes blood vessel leakage in eyes with diabetic retinopathy.
Edward Feener, M.D.

2008: Investigators show that salsalate, an inexpensive anti-inflammatory drug similar to aspirin, may prevent and help to treat type 2 diabetes by lowering blood glucose and reducing inflammation.
Allison Goldfine, M.D., and Dr. Shoelson

2008: A Joslin study identifies insulin resistance in the liver as a key factor in the cause of metabolic syndrome and its associated atherosclerosis, pinpointing a target for treatment of the condition afflicting millions.
Sudha Biddinger, M.D., Ph.D., and Dr. Kahn

2008: Joslin researchers demonstrate that a protein known for its role in inducing bone growth can also help promote the development of brown fat, a “good” fat that helps in the expenditure of energy and may play a role in fighting obesity.
Yu-Hua Tseng, Ph.D.

2008: Scientists show that insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells can form after birth or after injury from adult stem cells within the pancreas that are not beta cells.
Dr. Bonner-Weir’s lab

2009: Researchers demonstrate that adult humans still have energy-burning brown fat, a finding that could pave the way for new treatments both for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Kahn’s lab and Aaron Cypess, M.D., Ph.D.
2009: Scientists discover a key route by which high blood glucose levels can damage eyes, suggesting new drug targets for diabetes complications.
Dr. King’s lab

2009: In separate efforts, Joslin researchers identify two mechanisms that can kill insulin-producing cells in diabetes—one when the cells themselves can’t import insulin properly and another when high blood glucose levels damage a key enzyme.
Rohit Kulkarni, M.D., Ph.D., and Robert Stanton, M.D.

2010: Salsalate passes the next clinical hurdle in an FDA phase 2/3 trial for treatment of patients with type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Goldfine’s lab and Dr. Shoelson’s lab

2010: A national clinical trial confirms the effectiveness of ranibizumab (Lucentis) eye injections, often in combination with laser treatment, as a standard treatment for diabetes-associated swelling of the retina. Joslin basic research laid the foundation for this improved therapy.
Lloyd P. Aiello, M.D., Ph.D., and Dr. King’s lab

2010: Joslin research shows insulin guards against artery damage and atherosclerosis, which are major causes of death in type 1 and 2 diabetic patients.
Dr. King’s lab

2010: Scientists at Joslin conclusively demonstrate that a surprisingly high percentage of people with type 1 diabetes who have had the disease for 50 years or longer may still have insulin-producing islet cells and/or islet cell antibodies.
Dr. King’s lab and Hillary Keenan, Ph.D.

2010: Researchers identify adult stem cells cells in white fat tissue and skeletal muscle that can be transformed into brown fat cells.
Dr. Tseng’s lab

Page last updated: September 18, 2019