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NIH grant to fund research at OU-COM
into possible causes, prevention of
type 1 diabetes

October 25, 2010

(ATHENS, Ohio) – Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) announced today it was awarded a $221,250 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study molecules related to the onset of type 1 diabetes and evaluate the effectiveness of a potentially novel new drug for the treatment and prevention of the disease. 

Principal Investigator Kelly McCall, Ph.D., assistant professor of endocrinology, will head a team of investigators that include OU-COM researchers and faculty members  Frank Schwartz, M.D., professor of endocrinology; Calvin James, Ph.D., associate professor of virology; Ramiro Malgor, M.D., associate professor of pathology; and Fabian Benencia, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology.

Type 1 diabetes is a serious disease, and in 2006, it was documented as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. It is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin to properly control the body’s glucose levels, allowing excess sugar to build up in the bloodstream. When there is not enough insulin to carry sugar into the body’s cells, converting it into energy, it can cause life-threatening complications such as heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teenagers or young adults when symptoms become noticeable.  This generally occurs after the pancreas is severely damaged and insulin injections are necessary for survival.

“The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is only partially understood,” said McCall, whose research focuses on autoimmune-inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cancer, atherosclerosis, colitis and Graves’ disease.

“What we do know is that the pancreatic cells that produce insulin are mistaken as foreign by the body’s immune system and are destroyed, causing insulin insufficiency and type 1 diabetes,” McCall said. “Recent studies have implicated a specific signaling pathway that is abnormally activated in the pancreas of some individuals with type 1 diabetes, and may be important in the very early stages of the disease process, triggering the body’s attack on their own insulin-producing cells.”

There is a genetic tendency for people to develop the disease, and there is nothing that can be done to prevent type 1 diabetes.  Once it has developed, it requires a life-long commitment to daily management. There is no cure for the disease, but McCall and her team of investigators hope to gain important information about a signaling pathway activated by a virus that may be involved in the onset of type 1 diabetes. The findings could help with earlier diagnosis of the disease, resulting in a delay in, or significant control of, the complications.

Studies being conducted over the next two years with this NIH grant will help investigators better understand the molecular basis for the development of type 1 diabetes and test the effectiveness of a potential new drug to treat the disease. 

“The funding of this grant is confirmation that our research here at Ohio University has been recognized at the national level as important for the advancement of the scientific understanding of the molecular basis of type 1 diabetes and holds promise of a novel approach to the treatment of type 1 diabetes,” McCall said.  

Through a $2.6 million grant received from the NIH last year, a multidisciplinary team of investigators, including McCall, are conducting preclinical studies which will bring a new drug to the point of Phase I/II clinical trials for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. This drug has also shown some promise in preliminary studies as a possible novel treatment for type 1 diabetes. These studies will enable this new drug to be evaluated for its effectiveness in preventing virus-induced type 1 diabetes.

Preventing or delaying the complications of type 1 diabetes will lead to a longer and better quality of life for those inflicted with this disease.

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