Elizabeth Seaquist, MD, a University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) endocrinologist who treats adult patients with Type 1 and 2 Diabetes Mellitus, has been recognized by the American Diabetes Association and awarded the 2019 Lois Jovanovic Transformative Woman in Diabetes Award. This award recognizes women who are making a significant impact in diabetes care, education, research and public health. 

Dr. Seaquist first found her interest and passion for working with diabetes when she was a medical student at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

“I have always been interested in how different parts of the body talk to each other, which is actually endocrinology. But when I was a second-year medical student learning about diabetes and diabetes complications, I thought about why people, who have high blood sugar, have problems with their eyes, kidneys and nerves.”

Elizabeth Seaquist, MD, M Physician Endocrinologist

Thus, sparked her passion and interest for diabetes. Dr. Seaquist began to focus her research on the hypoglycemia that can occur in patients with diabetes who are treated with insulin. When someone is given too much insulin, their blood sugar will fall too low. If this happens frequently within a short period of time, they can lose the ability to recognize this, and the first sign that they have low blood sugar could be confusion or unconsciousness. When this happens, people are said to have impaired awareness of hypoglycemia. “Hypoglycemia happens a lot - sometimes as much as 2-3 times a week. This is enough hypoglycemia to make someone have impaired awareness,” Dr. Seaquist explains. “It could be devastating for someone with impaired awareness to have a low sugar in a social situation or while driving your car, and I became really intrigued as to why this recurring exposure to hypoglycemia leads to this problem.”

Dr. Seaquist has been spending the last 20 years trying to understand what happens in the brain that leads to the problem where people are unable to identify low blood sugar. She began to work with academic colleagues who work in the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research. They use novel methods to measure chemicals, in real-time, in the brain, while also creating questions and methods to answer how diabetes and recurrent hypoglycemia affects brain structure and function.

“I love our collaboration because this is how universities work. You have to be fearless and go into anybody’s business and say, ‘I have a crazy idea,’” Dr. Seaquist says. 

Currently, she and her colleagues are working on observing glucose in a whole new way. But before their research can impact patients today, Dr. Seaquist is focusing on driving public knowledge on diabetes. 

“First and foremost, people need to recognize that diabetes is a very serious disease,” Dr. Seaquist states.

Diabetes is generally a genetic disease and up to 30 percent of children who have parents with type 2 diabetes will get the disease sometime in their lifetime. Lifestyle factors influence the age at which type 2 diabetes is diagnosed. Dr. Seaquist explained the importance of physical exercise and how this can push back the date of someone receiving diabetes for decades. But, it can be managed through outstanding care that is provided by experts with M Physicians. 

“It is an epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control states that one in three people born in the first decade of this century will have diabetes by 2050,” Dr. Seaquist says. “It is everywhere, and we need to do something about this disease.”