Neuroendocrine Research Unit
The Neuroendocrine Research Unit at the EVMS Strelitz Diabetes Center, directed by Aaron Vinik, MD, PhD, is a global authority on neuroendocrine tumors, diabetes, diabetic complications, somatic and autonomic neuropathy. It is the leading research unit for the advancement of our understanding of diabetic neuropathy (DN). The Unit, in collaboration with other investigators, has gradually pushed the envelope as it delves deeper into the etiology and pathology of neuropathy.
From decades of study, the Research Unit spearheads the application of novel treatments for diabetic neuropathy. It seeks to understand neuropathy with an emphasis on a bench-to-bedside approach, and it auspiciously follows this mantra as translational discoveries resonate along its hallways. The Unit is home to many first in the field of neuropathy. It was the first to designate a modular approach to diabetic neuropathy, evaluating and treating neuropathy based on the type of nerve fiber involved. It was the first to describe the relationship between neuropathy and its co-morbidities: anxiety, depression and insomnia. Recently, it showed that with treatment of topiramate, a known pharmaceutical compound, small nerve fibers in diabetic neuropaths were regenerated in a span of 18 months. This discovery brings into question the prevailing belief that peripheral nerves are unable to regenerate.
The Research Unit’s translational approach to diabetic neuropathy permeates in its role as a global leader in the development of technological devices for assessing disease progression. DN is a complex, evolving disease necessitating careful and objective monitoring. Through an array of novel diagnostic devices, including contact heat evoked potential stimulation (CHEPS) and sudorimetry, the Unit seeks to follow disease progression, even prior to its clinical onset.
As all discoveries go, one of the key discoveries in the field of diabetic treatment hails from EVMS. Islet neogenesis associated protein (INGAP) was discovered at the Unit’s laboratory. INGAP plays a role in the development of insulin producing cells of the pancreas, and its therapeutic potential could cure millions of people who live with type 1 diabetes. Current clinical trials seek to examine its therapeutic efficacy.
In the realm of neuroendocrine tumors, the Unit continues to be a leader in improving the quality of life of the patients who grapple with this unfortunate condition. Patients from various corners of the world are referred to the Unit’s clinical arm, which holds one of the largest databases of neuroendocrine tumor patients in the country.
The Unit also serves as a coordinating center for many new therapeutic trials, providing sophisticated diagnostics and partnerships with superb laboratory support.