Choudhury researches in her lab

Texas A&M College of Pharmacy joins forces with Lichtenstein Foundation to stop diabetes in its tracks

December 23, 2014
  • 29.1 million children and adults in the U.S. – 9.3 percent of the population – have diabetes. (American Diabetes Association)
  • In 2012, 86 million Americans age 20 and older had prediabetes; up from 79 million in 2010. (American Diabetes Association)
  • One in eight adult Texans – roughly 2 million people – have been diagnosed with diabetes; another half million are believed to be undiagnosed. (Texas Health Institute)
  • The prevalence of adult diabetes is more than 20 percent higher in South Texas than the entire state of Texas. (Texas Health Institute)

KINGSVILLE, Texas — In an effort to stop diabetes before it starts, the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy is collaborating with the Morris L. Lichtenstein Jr. Medical Research Foundation and Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi. Mahua Choudhury, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy, will spearhead the project, which seeks to predict the early onset of diabetes and could make a noticeable difference in preventive treatment protocols for the disease.

“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.”

With nearly half a million dollars in support, Choudhury will lead a diabetes epigenetic study in children and their mothers 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,” Choudhury said. “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.”

The team will focus efforts on individuals with prediabetes, those who have high blood glucose or hemoglobin A1C levels but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. People with prediabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes associated blindness but not everyone with prediabetes will progress to diabetes.

“We want to stop diabetes before any clinical symptoms even arise,” said Sunitha Meruvu, Ph.D, research scientists at Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy. “To do that, we need to find an indicator that can tell us the disease risk ahead of time.” Meruvu, who will coordinate the project, joins Choudhury with a decade of experience in diabetes mostly garnered at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

After collecting samples, the research team plans to find ways for physicians to develop an intervention protocol to prevent diabetes in children. Additional funding is warranted to analyze the samples.

“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.

With the consistent rise in numbers that the South Texas community has seen, this research is coming at the right time, and in the right area. The findings will lead to greater insight into preventing the disease and improving the health of thousands of South Texans and beyond.

“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,” said Melissa Wilson, M.D., medical director of the foundation.

Also participating in the project from the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy are Jian Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor Joan Everett-Houser, P.A., Pharm.D., several professional student pharmacists, and Laurie Cazalas, R.N., research assistant with the Lichtenstein Foundation.

— Cheri Shipman

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