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'U' nets NIH grant to study diabetes

BY CLAIRE GOSCICKI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 30, 2010

Researchers at the Brehm Center for Diabetes Research — a division of the University’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center — received a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund research for early interventional drug treatments for type 1 diabetes, according to a press release issued by the center last month.

The grant will support Massimo Pietropaolo, professor of internal medicine at the Medical School and director of the immunogenetics laboratory at the Brehm Center, and his team, which includes two University researchers and a researcher from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

By combining laboratory findings with mathematical models, the team hopes to gain a better understanding of how immune responses in the body lead to damaged pancreas cells in those considered at risk for developing type 1 diabetes, the release stated.

This knowledge will spur progress toward discovering new drugs that can halt the progression of the disease. In addition, researchers hope the study will help doctors be able to better predict the onset of juvenile diabetes, the press release stated.

According to the National Institutes of Health website, type 1 diabetes — sometimes referred to as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes — is an endocrine disease often diagnosed in children, adolescents and young adults.

“(The) pancreas can no longer manufacture any insulin for the body,” said Dan Diepenhorst, manager of the diabetes and kidney disease unit at the Michigan Department of Community Health. This lack of insulin production affects blood sugar levels and causes glucose to buildup in the bloodstream.

According to the press release, more and more children and adults are getting diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and the disease is “approaching epidemic levels.”

“It’s a public health problem,” Pietropaolo said. “One can treat these patients, but unfortunately they will have to be treated for their whole lives.”

To treat type 1 diabetes, patients monitor their blood sugar levels and take insulin — administered in a variety of ways — to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. They’re also usually advised to exercise and eat healthy.

Diepenhorst said Michigan currently has the 15th highest number of diabetes cases in the United States, and the number of statewide cases has increased about 15 percent over the past five years.

By gaining a greater comprehension of the mechanisms of the disease, Pietropaolo said, he and his team can create better diabetes treatments and perhaps eventually a cure.

“Once we understand the basis of what leads to type 1 diabetes ... we can translate this knowledge into healing disease,” he said.