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August 11, 2003
Diabetes center to improve lives of southeast Ohioans
By Jennifer Shutt Bowie

The diabetes epidemic is officially on alert. Thanks in large part to a $1.5 million Bicentennial Campaign gift from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, Columbus, Ohio, and $500,000 in subsequent federal appropriations, the researchers and clinicians in Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine have set their sights on the disease.

Diabetes affects more than 19 million Americans (7.3 percent). More is spent on diabetes care annually than on any other chronic disease. The picture is worse in Appalachian Ohio where the Ohio University Center for Appalachian and Rural Health Research found that approximately 16 percent of area residents have diabetes. Genetics, diet, activity level and economic status could be blamed for the high rate.

Poverty increases the chance that a diabetic may suffer from complications from diabetes like blindness, limb amputations, kidney disease and premature death. This is because people with fewer resources tend to have fewer medical insurance benefits and, if they live in rural areas, less access to physicians, hospitals and regular medical care.

In spring 2003 Leonard Kohn, M.D., formerly a director at the National Institutes of Health and now professor of biomedical sciences at OU-COM, was appointed the J.O. Watson, D.O., Endowed Research Chair. Dedicated to diabetes and cardiovascular disease research, the chair is providing the cornerstone for a concentrated focus on diabetes at OU-COM.

Funded by the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation's gift to Ohio University's $200 million Bicentennial Campaign; the chair honors Dr. James O. Watson, a founder of Doctors Hospital, Columbus. "I am deeply honored by the appointment not so much as a personal accomplishment but by the opportunity it provides us at OU-COM," says Kohn. "Numerous others (across campus) suddenly were crystallized by the opportunity provided by the Foundation."

Ohio University has targeted diabetes for more than 10 years. Researchers at the Edison Biotechnology Institute study obesity and diabetes. At the core of this effort are Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar John Kopchick, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences Xiao Chen, Ph.D.; and Kohn. OU-COM faculty and students work to better understand the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes. In addition, the Departments of Biomedical Sciences and Family Medicine have hosted conferences focused on research, treatment and management of the disease.

As the Watson Chair, Kohn will lead a new program dedicated to diabetes. "I view the diabetes center as a focal point to coordinate the research efforts of interested Edison Biotech, OU-COM and University researchers/staff onto an important disease process affecting our community of Appalachia," says Kohn.

Frank Schwartz, M.D. - an endocrinologist from Parkersburg, W.Va., who joined OU-COM's clinical faculty on July 1, 2003 - is working with Kohn to establish a diabetes center as part of the Appalachian Rural Health Institute. "I came to Ohio University for the opportunity to create a diabetes center for patient treatment, clinical research and training of medical students, medical residents, nursing students and dietitian students," Schwartz says.

Rural individuals and families are more likely to lack health insurance and to stay uninsured for longer periods of time than their urban counterparts. Also, since fewer health care providers are available in rural areas, rural populations are less likely to seek preventative care or testing for chronic conditions like diabetes. Ohio University's Appalachian Rural Health Institute is bringing research, rural health information, telehealth and needed health care services together to meet the health care needs of the region.

"Ohio University is grateful for the support of the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations and the leadership of Rep. Ted Strickland and Sen. Mike DeWine for providing funding for this important initiative," says Ohio University President Robert Glidden. "This is a great example for our students as well as for communities throughout the region of the power of partnerships. It's encouraging to the local health providers, researchers, physicians, and, most importantly, the families in dire need of health services."

Together, Kohn and Schwartz will build upon the University's research and expertise in the areas of obesity and diabetes. "We will transform how diabetes care is delivered to the region's citizens. The center will provide comprehensive diabetes care, public and patient education and health care advocacy for citizens of southeast Ohio and W.Va.," says Schwartz. "It will reduce the cost, personal suffering, and premature death that often result from uncontrolled diabetes."

Tackling what is according to Kohn "perhaps the greatest community health need in southeast Ohio," the diabetes center will enable OU-COM to provide a coordinated basic research, clinical research and clinical care delivery program aimed at delivering a program of national significance. Under the direction of the Watson Chair the diabetes center will interact with programs across the Ohio University campus and throughout the state of Ohio to create a coordinated clinical/research program with importance to the commercial and clinical health of Appalachia.

As advances are made in the laboratory, the diabetes center will deliver them to real people, improving the quality of life for southeast Ohioans. "Because of our location and the expertise of our basic scientists and clinical faculty - and thanks to the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation's tremendous gift - we have a chance to become a major center for diabetes research and treatment," says Jack Brose, D.O., dean of OU-COM.

This gift of hope was made possible by an endowed chair created during the Bicentennial Campaign.

Jennifer Shutt Bowie, BSJ '94 and MSC '99, is director of development communication for Ohio University


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