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Symposium sheds light on diabetes research, treatments

A rat in a U-M lab is on the hot seat–literally–for the study of diabetes. Researchers are looking at rodents with and without diabetes, as rats with the disease are unable to respond to heat on their tails because diabetes can affect their nerves.

Eva Feldman, director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Center for the Study of Complications in Diabetes, spoke about this research during a March 31 diabetes symposium in the Towsley Center.

The symposiumcoordinated by the Health Sciences Council, which consists of deans of health sciences schools–featured Feldman; Alan Saltiel, director of the Life Sciences Institute; and William Herman, interim director of the Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center.

Diabetes affects nearly 17 million Americans and is the sixth-leading cause of death. Type 2 diabetes, which is strongly associated with obesity and aging, accounts for up to 95 percent of diabetes cases. Changes in diet and exercise, improved medications and proper management of complications can reduce the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Still, the disease can lower the average life expectancy by up to 15 years, increase cardiovascular disease risk two- to four-fold, and is the main cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations and adult-onset blindness.

The symposium highlighted the University's role in sharing information about managing the disease. In addition, the audience learned about the definition of diabetes, its complications, the epidemiological perspective and the current standard of treatment.

Some U-M research involves studying rodents and cell cultures of kidney, nerves and eyes, said Feldman, professor of neurology. Antioxidants can block injury to the cell and slow the progression of the disease and partially restore functions, she said.

Saltiel said diabetes occurs over a continuum of worsening insulin action. Fat cells play an important role in the process by secreting hormones and fatty acids, thus regulating the sensitivity of cells.

Diabetes rates are expected to rise substantially as the U.S. population ages and becomes increasingly overweight, sedentary, and racially and ethnically diverse. About 798,000 new diabetes cases develop each year–often going undiagnosed for many years, Herman said.

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