In an effort to improve diabetes prevention, the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy has established a partnership with the Morris L. Lichtenstein Jr. Medical Research Foundation and Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi. Approximately two million people are diagnosed with diabetes in Texas alone according to the Texas Health Institute, and the collaborative projects aims to predict the early onset of the disease.
Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy is receiving almost half a million dollars to fund the project, which is expected not only to improve early detection of diabetes, but also to perform a clear difference regarding preventive treatment protocols. The project will be supervised by the assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy, Mahua Choudhury, Ph.D., who believes that the project may help overcome current obstacles.
“Management of diabetes represents an enormous challenge for health care systems,” Choudhury said. “The increased number of diabetic cases, the lack of access to screening, and the expense of appropriate therapy argue strongly for a greater focus on preventive strategies. Therefore, we are committed to find novel, early biomarkers to facilitate the development of such interventions.”
The scientist is going to lead a diabetes epigenetic study conducted in both children and their mothers, in collaboration with Mauricio Flores, M.D., of the Children’s Diabetes & Endocrine Center at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. “Epigenetic changes are not changes to a gene sequence, but a modification to a gene. If detected early enough, these modifications can potentially be reversed through proper diet and nutrition. This proactive approach will prevent diabetes before the clinical symptoms arise,” she added.
The research will be focused primarily on patients who have pre-diabetes, which means that they have high blood glucose or hemoglobin A1C levels. Even though the levels are not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, the risk of later suffering from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes associated blindness is increased. The number of American adults with pre-diabetes increased from 79 million in 2010 to 86 million in 2012, according to the American Diabetes Association.
“We want to stop diabetes before any clinical symptoms even arise,” explained the research scientist at Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy, Sunitha Meruvu, Ph.D, who is going to coordinate the study. “To do that, we need to find an indicator that can tell us the disease risk ahead of time.” As part of the study, the team is going to collect samples, and will then seek for ways to develop an intervention protocol by the physicians in order to prevent pediatric diabetes.
“Our Foundation trustees are excited by the opportunity to work with this talented young scientist exploring new frontiers in the search for solutions for the terrible burden diabetes imposes on the South Texas community,” said Charles W. Thomasson, president of the Lichtenstein Foundation.
If one in each eight adults in Texas are diagnosed with the disease, and another half million people are estimated to live with diabetes undiagnosed, the prevalence of adult diabetes in South Texas is more than 20% higher than the rest of the state, according to the Texas Health Institute — a number that has been increasing and raising concerns. This trend had already been noted by Choudhury in her research, who has been working on preventing the disease based on the idea that epigenetic changes might precede the accumulation of genetic events in diabetes evolution, which has now resulted in this project.
Therefore, the research is expected to bring great benefits to preventing the disease and improving the health of thousands of people in South Texas. “This type of research can be the answer to how to stop diabetes before it develops, and will help concentrate prevention efforts on children who are at a high risk for the disease,” added Melissa Wilson, M.D., medical director of the foundation.
In addition, Jian Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor Joan Everett-Houser, P.A., Pharm.D., at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy, several professional student pharmacists, and Laurie Cazalas, R.N., a research assistant with the Lichtenstein Foundation, are also going to collaborate in the project.