|WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER RESEARCHERS SEEK GENE FOR DIABETES
January 1, 1999
Washington, D.C., July 19, 1999 - Washington Hospital Center is comparing the genes of pregnant women with gestational diabetes, or a history of gestational diabetes with their family members in the search for the gene or genes that cause type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death by disease in the United States, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Robert Ratner, MD, endocrinologist at Washington Hospital Center and lead investigator on the study said, " Studying gestational diabetes is a great way of getting to the genetics of type 2 diabetes because we have access to the mother, the baby, siblings, parents, and in many cases, grandparents. Then we can really start to track the genes, because right now we don't know what causes diabetes. About 50 percent of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes. We believe gestational diabetes is a harbinger to type two diabetes. If we can identify and track those genes, we may be able to understand what causes type 2 diabetes, how to prevent it and ultimately, how to cure it."
The study focuses on African American women with gestational diabetes and their families because African Americans are at greater risk for developing diabetes than are many racial groups. "Type 2 diabetes is epidemic in the District of Columbia, especially among the African American population," Dr. Ratner said. In 1992 The Centers for Disease Control reported 52,000 people in the District of Columbia with Diabetes. In a 1997 study, the District of Columbia Diabetes Control Program reported that 8 percent of all DC residents who are black, have diabetes. That figure is only 3 percent among DC's non-black residents.
The Control Program also reports a higher death rate among diabetic African Americans: 25 deaths per 100,000 residents per year for African Americans compared to 7 deaths per 100,000 for whites. That translates to a mortality rate that is three-and-a-half times greater in African Americans compared to Caucasians in D.C.
"We're not only getting blood for DNA tests on the women and their families, we're also doing glucose testing and we've found some people with diabetes who didn't know they had it, " said Samantha Toomey, nurse practitioner and study coordinator.
Pregnant women with gestational diabetes and people with Type 2 Diabetes are advised to lose weight and watch their diets. Exercise is also an important part of controlling diabetes because exercise increases the body's insulin sensitivity and lowers blood glucose.
The American Diabetes Association reports that nearly 16 million Americans have diabetes which is actually a group of serious diseases characterized by high blood sugar levels caused by defects in the body's ability to produce or use insulin. Diabetes can lead to severe complications like blindness, kidney disease, heart disease and amputations.
Phillip Goldstein, MD, OB/GYN and head of women's services at Washington Hospital Center is also participating in the study. Work began in January 1999 and is being conducted in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development where Domenico Accili, MD, endocrinologist, is the lead investigator. The study will last about two years. U.S. News and World Report recently recognized Washington Hospital Center as one of the nation's top 50 hospitals for the care of people with diabetes.