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Diabetes is a disease characterized by abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood. In most non-diabetic individuals, the hormone, insulin, will regulate the level of blood sugar precisely and automatically.

In individuals with diabetes, there is either inadequate production of insulin (Type 1 diabetes), or resistance to the normal action of insulin by body tissues (Type 2 diabetes). This inadequate insulin action results in high blood sugar which may cause a number of serious complications.


The use of insulin as a therapy to control the symptoms of one of mankind’s most baffling diseases, diabetes mellitus, was undertaken in the United States by Dr. William D. Sansum in Santa Barbara, California. Dr. Sansum had learned of the findings of two Canadian researchers, Banting and Best, and began treatment in the Potter Metabolic Clinic on May 31, 1922. Twenty-two years later, in 1944, the Sansum Medical Research Institute was incorporated as a charitable tax-exempt organization dedicated to research and education in medicine. The Institute today under the leadership of Dr. Lois Jovanovic continues as one of the leading diabetes research institutions in the United States and the only institute in California devoted to finding a cure for diabetes.

The mission of the Institute is to conduct basic and applied research on the cause, prevention and treatment of disease. Diabetes remains the principal and continuing area of study.


The work at the Sansum Medical Research Institute encompasses the following areas of research and self management:

Cure of Type 1 Diabetes - Transplantation

Type 1, insulin dependent, diabetes is a disease resulting from the destruction of insulin secreting cells in the pancreas. Transplantation of pancreatic islet cells would theoretically cure the disease. Sansum Medical Research Institute has been one of the leaders in the transplantation procedure. In 1993, the Institute’s scientists collaborated with Russian researchers to develop different methods of cell delivery and cell preparation.

Transplantation of pancreatic islets was performed at the Institute on forty-seven patients in 1993. Evaluation of results continues. Although patients have not yet been able to stop their injections, some temporarily lowered their insulin dependency by 50%.

Much like the initial stages of other organ transplant innovations, the primary enemy of islet cell transplantation is the body’s rejection of foreign tissue. Sansum researchers are investigating a variety of strategies to bypass or protect against the rejection process. One cooperative project looks to develop a ceramic coating to protect the islets. A variety of biological and natural materials are being investigated for "encapsulation" of islets. A successful encapsulation process could permit transplantation of islet tissue from many sources.

Pregnancy and Diabetes

Sansum has been on the forefront of the effort to guarantee women with diabetes the same opportunity for a healthy outcome of pregnancy as a non-diabetic woman. Work with pregnant women focuses on nutrition, vitamins and minerals, insulin delivery systems and exercise. Pregnant women with diabetes are aided in their ability to control blood sugar levels with these innovative programs. Specially developed exercise programs have reduced or eliminated the need for insulin in women with pregnancy related diabetes -- so called gestational diabetes. This work also seeks to prevent future development of Type 2 diabetes in women who have experienced gestational diabetes. These studies have already made Santa Barbara County one of the safest places in the nation for a woman with gestational or other types of diabetes to have her child.

Complications of Diabetes

Diabetes kills slowly because its complications afflict every organ system in the body. Basic scientific studies continue to improve the means by which complications can be identified at the earliest possible stage and then arrested or prevented. At the molecular level, the mechanism by which high blood sugar levels cause complications is also being investigated so that new treatment will be possible.

Diabetes Prevention Strategies

It is clear from investigative work at the Institute that several genes are involved in the development of Type 1 diabetes. So far, research at the Institute has defined a zone of probability where the suspect genes exist and has specified certain genes as candidates for further investigation. Once the exact genes responsible for the hereditary transfer of diabetes are identified, detection and prevention methods can be designed.

Reproductive Abnormalities

Findings indicate there is a connection between insulin-dependent diabetes and abnormalities of the male reproductive system. The current studies attempt to determine whether variation in the diabetic condition and blood sugar control affect testicular function and sperm development. These studies of factors contributing to the onset and development of reproductive disorders provide hope for prevention of these problems.

New Oral Agents

Type 2, non insulin dependent diabetes, can be controlled with pills which act to help metabolize the sugar in the blood stream. There are a number of prospects for oral therapies for people with Type 2 diabetes. Institute researchers are investigating several new classes of drugs through patient trials.