The incidence of diabetes in the United States has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades. Direct medical costs for individuals diagnosed with diabetes goes beyond $176 billion which is 2.3 times higher than expenditures of individuals without diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that 25.8 million children and adults have diabetes (8.3 percent of the U.S. Population), of which 18.8 million are diagnosed with diabetes and an estimated 7 million are undiagnosed. At this time, 2.5 million Texans have diabetes and this number is expected to increase to nearly 8 million in the next 30 years.
According to the ADA, the rate in South Texas is 3 times higher than the national average and the health care costs of individuals with diabetes in South Texas is $1.5 billion. According to Mahua Choudhury, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, “This trend cannot be clarified entirely by dietary, social and behavioral changes that have occurred during the same time. It is known that people who consume a low calorie diet and exercise are also diagnosed with diabetes.”
Choudhury notes that epigenetic changes might precede the accumulation of genetic events in diabetes evolution. It is currently believed that environmental risk factors initiate or accelerate the development of diabetes.
Thirty five years of research has been able to identify many of the genetic, immunological and environmental factors involved with the disease. Unfortunately, even though there has been a substantial gain in knowledge, that knowledge has afforded few opportunities for preventive action against diabetes — regardless of type. Research has linked several genes involved with diabetes, however these genes can’t account for the rapidly growing prevalence worldwide.
Choudhury points out, “Environmental factors can cause epigenetic changes—which are not changes to a gene, but, rather, a modification to a gene. If detected early enough, these modifications can be easily reversed through proper diet and nutrition. This proactive approach avoids long clinical trials and the resultant effort to develop new drugs to treat the disease.” Choudhury’s unconventional idea leads to the early prediction of onset diabetes and can help make a difference in preventive treatment.
Choudhury has partnered with pharmacists, masters and post-doctoral students along with her pharmacy colleagues, Joan Everett-Houser, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice, John Bowman, associate professor of pharmacy practice, David Potter, Ph.D., professor and chair of pharmaceutical sciences, and several other international collaborators to fight diabetes in a unique way. Choudhury notes, “My research is being completed in hopes that it will create an environment where diabetes is no longer a threat. In essence, it would protect the lives of children of this generation and all future generations”.