Healthcare research spotlight: Diabetes in Greater Tampa Bay  - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Healthcare research spotlight: Diabetes in Greater Tampa Bay 

Healthcare research spotlight: Diabetes in Greater Tampa Bay 

Medical research is strong in Greater Tampa Bay, with several institutions continuously making groundbreaking discoveries and innovations in medicine. One area of medical research where GTB shines particularly bright is for a serious health condition that affects more than 30 million people in the United States — diabetes. 

In 2022-2023, U.S. News and World Report ranked Tampa General Hospital the No. 1 Best Hospital for Diabetes & Endocrinology in Florida and No. 27 in the country, which is up one spot from their No. 28 ranking in 2021. TGH is renowned for its high quality of patient care, technological resources and teams of renowned doctors and experts. 

The University of South Florida’s Diabetes and Endocrinology Center shares a close collaboration with TGH. Through a multidisciplined approach, this esteemed center is working to discover the causes of type 1 diabetes, thanks to a grant from the National Institute of Health. 

The NIH awarded USF a $70 million grant in July 2021 to fund efforts to pinpoint potential causes of diabetes. USF is one of 20 centers globally participating in the Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, which focuses on an ongoing study called Pathway to Prevention.  

The causes of type 1 diabetes are largely unknown. However, both family history and environmental factors are often thought to be the culprits. TrialNet looks to explore what exactly these root causes might be, with the hope of one day preventing this disease entirely. With type 1 diabetes diagnoses increasing in recent years, the significance of this grant cannot be overstated. 

Other institutions around GTB join in the fight against diabetes. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg has a Pediatric Diabetes Program that offers end-to-end resources for kids who have type 1 diabetes. 

Diabetes requires specific care and necessary training to ensure proper handling of the disease. In addition, children have unique health care needs which adults do not have, and professionals at Johns Hopkins are specially trained to help pediatric patients.  

Parents of children recently diagnosed with diabetes may not be well acquainted with the information they need. This is where Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital comes in. Providing education, treatments and the latest technology, the Pediatric Diabetes Program’s mission is to make sure each individual patient receives the best possible care. 

The JAEB Center for Health Research is a Tampa-based organization specializing in type 1 diabetes and other epidemiological research. Since 2001, this nonprofit has been the coordinating center for the Diabetes Research in Children’s Network, known as DirectNet. JAEB, NIH and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation work together to conduct clinical trials. Some current studies include determining the cognitive and neuroanatomical (anatomy of the nervous system) consequences of type 1 diabetes in young children. Another study analyzes how effective and safe it is to use Continuous Glucose Monitoring technology for children ages four to 10. The study considers factors affecting this age group in particular that contribute to the risk of hypoglycemia. 

Diabetes research has made great lengths in just the last few decades alone. Gene therapy and stem cell infusions have shown early, promising results. With future prevention as the goal, doctors, scientists and researchers alike work diligently for the biggest breakthrough since the discovery of insulin as a treatment in 1889.  

In addition to grants, dedicated foundations and individual donors contribute to funding for research and care. The American Diabetes Association operates nationally, and its Tampa office is one of only four in Florida. The ADA offers avenues to volunteer or donate directly. JDRF, the world’s largest nonprofit funder of type 1 diabetes, is active in GTB. JDRF donates hundreds of millions of dollars every decade toward research, along with providing community services. 

Strong communities and support networks have long been the backbone of diabetes care, propelling forward the research necessary to keep up the fight.  

In the rankings 

Best Hospitals for Diabetes & Endocrinology in Tampa-St. Petersburg 

  • No. 1 Tampa General Hospital 
  • No. 2 St. Joseph’s Hospital-Tampa 
  • No. 3 St. Anthony’s Hospital 
  • No. 4 Morton Plant Hospital 
  • No. 5 AdventHealth Tampa 

U.S. News & World Report, 2022-23 

Q&A with Venkata Budharaju, MD 

Venkata Budharaju is the medical director of the Diabetes Program at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, part of the BayCare Health System. He is a board-certified endocrinologist at the Florida Endocrinology & Diabetes Center in Pinellas County. He completed his clinical training in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Iowa in 2011.  

Dr. Budharaju sees patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes both in the inpatient and outpatient setting with a focus on lifestyle medicine, weight management, complications prevention and the use of technology in diabetes care.  

Q: Why is it important to raise awareness about diabetes? 

A: Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects more than 30 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, prediabetes is a serious health condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. 

The message is that early detection helps prevent life-altering complications. We want to encourage people to take the diabetes risk tests available online or with your health care provider. 

Diet, exercise, education and technology are making life with diabetes more manageable. We encourage people to join a fitness challenge of their choice, find healthy diet recipes and learn more about diabetes technology that is available. Small wins become big victories, and suddenly the good days outnumber the bad.  

Q: What should people know about diabetes that they may not be aware of? 

A: We commonly hear that people with type 2 diabetes cannot eat sugar. It is true that people with type 2 diabetes should eat a healthful diet, and these diets are generally low in sugar. However, it may not be necessary to avoid sugar entirely. For instance, fruits contain fructose, which is a type of sugar, but they also provide fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals. 

See Also

The American Diabetes Association encourages people with diabetes to include fresh, frozen or canned fruits with no added sugar in their diet. 

People with diabetes should avoid sugary drinks, though. An analysis of data from 310,819 people found that the risk of type 2 diabetes was more significant in those who consumed sugary drinks more regularly. 

It’s important to remember that swapping out real sugar with sweeteners or choosing “sugar-free” foods does not mean a food is carbohydrate free. These foods may contain sugar alcohols, which can increase your blood glucose levels. Understanding food labels, counting carbohydrates and developing a meal plan is a vital part of maintaining normal blood glucose levels.  

Research has shown that there is a relationship between type 2 diabetes and weight gain and obesity. However, it is possible to have type 2 diabetes without being overweight or obese. Around 12.5% of adults with type 2 diabetes are not overweight. It is possible that a lean adult who presents with new-onset diabetes may have latent autoimmune diabetes, which people sometimes refer to as “type 1.5” diabetes. 

Q: What kind of services for diabetes are being performed at St. Anthony’s and other BayCare hospitals? 

A: BayCare has invested extensive resources to focus on diabetes prevention and management in the Tampa Bay community both in the inpatient and outpatient setting. These include the hugely popular structured diabetes education and nutrition programs at 14 different BayCare facilities. These programs are accredited by the ADA and offer classes, workshops and self-management services, no matter where you are in your diabetes journey. 

Examples of these programs include the One-on-One education appointments with a dietitian and nurses who are Certified Diabetes Educators; pre-diabetes workshops and education programs; diabetes management classes including diabetes counseling during pregnancy; and nutrition counseling and meal planning. 

BayCare also offers free community lectures discussing a variety of diabetes health promotion topics. These programs are offered throughout the year. BayCare’s free Diabetes Education Empowerment Program, DEEP, is a six-week class that teaches people to take charge of their diabetes. Attendees meet in small groups once a week for two hours and have the option to meet one-on-one with a BayCare diabetes educator. 

My personal favorite is a four-week program called The Journey for Control: A Diabetes Management Class. The weekly two-hour class uses Conversation Maps, a series of images and metaphors, to engage people in conversations about diabetes and prediabetes health topics and provides an action plan to make lifestyle and behavior changes. 

To learn more about BayCare’s diabetes education and management programs, visit 

By Ryan Walsh.

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