Noted diabetes researcher Ralph DeFronzo, MD, has received the 2022 Luminary in Cardiometabolic Medicine award from the Metabolic Institute of America. Dr. DeFronzo is chief of diabetes at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) and deputy director of the University Health System’s Texas Diabetes Institute. As the award recipient, he will be the keynote speaker at the metabolic institute’s 6th annual Heart in Diabetes CME Conference in Philadelphia later this year.
Dr. DeFronzo, who is a professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine’s diabetes division and the holder of the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long Distinguished Chair in Diabetes at UT Health San Antonio, has spent more than 45 years researching the root causes and pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes. Dr. DeFronzo was responsible for bringing metformin into the U.S. market in 1995, where it remains the No. 1 prescribed drug for the treatment of the disease.
Among his accolades, Dr. DeFronzo was recently named the recipient of the Harold Hamm International Prize for Biomedical Research in Diabetes, considered to be the “Nobel Prize” of diabetes research. He has had more than 800 articles published in peer-reviewed journals and is the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) longest consecutively funded investigator, with his research funding beginning in 1975.
“Our team’s work has been instrumental in defining that insulin resistance was the part of a syndrome — metabolic syndrome — in which cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke and heart failure), as well as renal disease, hypertension and dyslipidemia, were causally associated with the underlying defect in insulin action,” DeFronzo said. “It is gratifying to see that world-renowned experts in diabetes, cardiology, renal disease and obesity recognize my contributions and have honored me with the 2022 Luminary in Cardiometabolic Medicine award.”
The future of diabetes research and its impact
Dr. DeFronzo notes that newer and better classes of drugs beyond metformin exist today, including the sodium-glucose transport protein 2 inhibitor (SGLT2i), which he invented, that was developed as a treatment to lower blood glucose. SGLT2 inhibitors work by preventing the reabsorption of glucose from the blood that’s filtered through the kidneys, enabling glucose to be excreted via urine. However, DeFronzo also hypothesized that these drugs would prevent diabetic kidney disease, a prediction that has been clinically proven to be true.
“Little did I realize that SGLT2i would prove to be an effective treatment for prevention of heart failure, heart attacks and cardiovascular mortality,” DeFronzo said. “Our previous and ongoing work has been instrumental in defining how SGLT2i works on the kidneys to improve glucose control and prevent diabetic kidney disease. Recently, our team received a large grant from the NIH — $2.5 million over five years — to study how SGLT2i works on the heart to reduce cardiovascular events and prevent heart failure.”
Watch this video to learn more about how Dr. DeFronzo and other UT Health San Antonio physician-scientists are leading the way with groundbreaking research in diabetes, kidney diseases and other metabolic disorders.