Wednesday, December 05, 2001

UC gets $6 million to study genetics of diabetes

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Cincinnati has received a $6 million federal grant that will make it one of four major centers nationwide to delve more deeply into the genetic triggers of diabetes.

        The five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will support a “Mouse Diabetes Phenotype Center” at UC at which experts plan to speed and scale up their analysis of genetically engineered mice in hopes of finding new targets for treating or preventing diabetes.

        In essence, UC — along with Yale, Vanderbilt and the University of Texas Southwest in Dallas — will act as basic genetic resource services for diabetes researchers nationwide and worldwide, experts here say.

        “What this does is put Cincinnati on the map in diabetes research. This will allow us to attract first-rate diabetes experts,” said Dr. Patrick Tso, associate director of the Cincinnati Obesity Research Center and principal investigator for the NIH grant.

        The phenotype center will consolidate diabetes research already begun at UC as well as expand it. At least 10 UC scientists will be involved with the project, as well as 20 to 30 lab support people.

        The project is expected to take advantage of a growing core of genetic analysis technology that UC has acquired in the past few years. Eventually, the center may move into UC's off-campus research center at the former Aventis research lab in Reading — a site UC considers key to Tristate plans to expand biotech economic development.

        Diabetes is the nation's fourth-leading cause of death, and the nation's leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and limb amputation. Last week, UC physicians performed Cincinnati's first islet cell transplant, an emerging treatment that can cure diabetes, at least temporarily.

        The new mouse lab will function at a more basic science level. UC experts will analyze mice — primarily sent from other research centers — that were engineered to exhibit or lack specific genes believed to play roles in diabetes. With updated technology, UC's lab will be able to track changes occurring in many genes at once, rather than one or a few at a time.

        Results could improve understanding and treatments for how the body controls weight and glucose levels, and how diabetes attacks the heart and kidneys.

        Dr. Tso said the phenotype lab has started some work and plans to be in full swing next year.


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