Daily Herald American Diabetes Association
Local scientists on cutting edge of diabetes research

With diabetes ranking as one of the nation's most prevalent, debilitating and deadly diseases, its no wonder researchers are hot on the trail of unlocking one of the keys to prevention or finding a cure.

Dr. Matthew Brady
Dr. Matthew Brady

A treasure trove of local diabetes research

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) supports basic and clinical diabetes research aimed at preventing, treating and curing diabetes. Research projects cover the spectrum from islet cell biology and transplantation techniques to immunology and studies in education and behavioral issues.

The organization recently increased support for diabetes research - growing from $18 million in funding 1999 to $42 million this year. In 2007, the ADA funded 97 new grants and since program inception in 1952 has funded more than 4,000 diabetes research projects throughout the United States and researchers like Drs. Wicksteed, Batlle, Brady and Huang in Chicago's own backyard.

For more information on the American Diabetes Association's cutting edge research, visit www.diabetes.org. A special online researcher database and the organization's national Forefront research magazine supply a detailed look at research both on the national front and in Chicagoland. For additional information, call (800) DIABETES.

Thanks to the American Diabetes Association and their research awards, scientists like Dr. Matthew Brady, Dr. Elbert Huang and Dr. Baron Wicksteed, all from the University of Chicago; and Dr. Daniel Batlle, Northwestern University, bring leading edge research and the search for preventing diabetes' complications and finding a cure to Chicago.

"There are three main types of research awards focusing on training, career development and general research," says Dr. Brady, former chair of the ADA research grant review committee. "Because funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has tightened in the last five years, ADA grant reviewers have seen an explosion in the number of grant applications and grant awards."

Dr. Brady's observations are on target judging by the 378 ADA grant applications received in 2000 and last year's record 970. The NIH, he says, traditionally awards funding to 25-28 percent of their applicants but only 13 percent received the green light this year.

The associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, who received his own ADA career development award in 2001, says that in addition to seeking breakthroughs in preventing and curing diabetes, he hopes the grants stimulate interest and pull additional scientists into diabetes research fields.

Researchers, Dr. Brady reports, are delving into everything from new drugs to treat type 2 diabetes and prevent complications to understanding the autoimmune process behind type 1 diabetes to better predict and prevent diabetes in children.

Examples of current research projects involve:

• preventing childhood obesity

• regenerating islet cells to prevent type 2 diabetes

• discovering the protein related to food intake and weight control

• empowering patients to improve their diabetes care

• replacement of beta cells for the treatment of type 1 diabetes

• slowing the development of diabetic retinopathy

• preventing kidney disease

• uncovering the link between diabetes and cognitive decline

• insulin resistance as it relates to obesity and heart disease

Among those Chicagoans currently receiving research funding is Dr. Batlle, professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and chief of the division of nephrology and hypertension at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Batlle's high profile work takes a close look at type 1 diabetes and preventing kidney disease before it starts.

"Fortunately," he says "Not everyone with type 1 diabetes develops kidney complications or hypertension. That means there's no need to treat everyone in an effort to prevent these complications, but it's very important to develop tools to help identify those individuals at greatest risk as well as to gather good clinical evidence to show that treatment will work if started early on."

Diabetes can damage kidneys and cause them to fail, losing their ability to filter out waste products and resulting in nephropathy. Researchers like Dr. Batlle are working to determine which health factors make those with type 1 diabetes more at risk for getting kidney disease.

To answer this question, Dr. Batlle designed a clinical study to prevent kidney complications early and currently seeks 400 study participants who have lived with type 1 diabetes for between five and 28 years, are between the ages of 13 and 50 and who currently have no evidence of kidney disease or high blood pressure for ongoing study involving the role of nighttime blood pressure, another early marker for predicting the development of kidney disease. The multi-institutional study kicks off this month. For information, call (312) 503-2183.

Dr. Huang, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, received an ADA clinical research award to study the management of type 2 diabetes in elderly patients.

Dr. Elbert Huang
Dr. Elbert Huang

"There is a lot of uncertainty about how intensively to manage type 2 diabetes among elderly patients because sicker, elderly patients have been routinely excluded from clinical trials of diabetes treatment strategies," Dr. Huang says. "Because of the wide variance in health status of older patients, it's often difficult to make diabetes treatment decisions in people who have conditions like dementia, cancer or Alzheimer's disease. These non-diabetic conditions may alter the risks and benefits of pursuing intensive diabetes treatment."

Dr. Huang hopes to design and pilot test a web-based general educational tool to help both seniors and their doctors more easily navigate diabetes and other health challenges.

Dr., Wicksteed, another University of Chicago researcher and grant recipient, is working to better understand how cells respond to a fairly new class of drugs called GLP-1 analogues or exendin-4.

"My research is fairly basic, meaning I'm not a clinician and my work is not directly linked to developing or evaluating specific diabetes drugs," Dr. Wicksteed explains. "Rather, I am more interested in understanding how these drugs work and having the possibility of identifying new targets for drugs."

Dr. Wicksteed's project focuses on the roles of A kinase anchoring proteins (AKAPs) in the islet beta cell. He currently is working to analyze a beta-cell drug treating type 2 diabetes and its complications.

In the past 10 years, the ADA has helped fund more than 1,300 grants including 300 training fellowships. Since 1952 research program inception, 4,000 research projects have been funded and since 1980, more than $400 million invested in diabetes research.


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