Wake Forest Receives $20 Million NIH Grant to Oversee Diabetes Genetics Study

September 30, 2002

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Wake Forest University School of Medicine has been awarded a five-year, $20 million grant by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to coordinate a worldwide effort to identify the genes that determine susceptibility to Type 1 diabetes.

The project, called the international Type 1 Diabetes Genetics Consortium, will be managed by a team at the School of Medicine headed by Stephen S. Rich, Ph.D., University Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences.

"The consortium is an ambitious global effort to identify genes contributing to Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes," said Rich.

The consortium has three main goals:

  • Establish a new, worldwide collection of 2,500 families with at least two children who are affected by Type 1 diabetes.
  • Organize the detailed genetic analyses of families already collected—there are about 1,800 of these families.
  • Provide resources so researchers can coordinate their efforts to identify the genes that interact to define the risk for Type 1 diabetes.

The consortium is organized into three geographical zones: North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. Each region will recruit volunteers, collect samples and clinical information, and perform genetic characterization. Additional geographic regions may be added.

A steering committee, chaired by Rich, will oversee operations and have representatives from each region. "The coordinating center at Wake Forest will facilitate each region’s activities, will assemble the central collection of clinical information and genetic data, and will help disseminate the results of detailed genetic analysis," he said. Rich said his team would work closely not only with the Diabetes Institute and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation but also with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Human Genome Research Institute, and other organizations to ensure the success of the consortium.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system malfunctions, producing an autoimmune response that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Because affected individuals no longer can produce insulin naturally, they need daily insulin injections to stay alive.

The disease is often diagnosed in childhood, which is why type I diabetes was called "juvenile diabetes."

"Type 1 diabetes is caused by a complex interaction between genetics and the environment," Rich said. "Many genes are thought to contribute to a person’s overall risk of developing diabetes; but some of these genes have not yet been identified."

One group of genes that determines susceptibility to the disease is termed HLA genes, which control a person’s immune response. Another gene that is known to contribute to risk is the insulin gene.

"HLA and the insulin gene are not the whole story," said Rich. "As many as 17 additional genetic regions have been reported as contributing to risk. The consortium should help researchers begin to clarify the genetic picture."

Wake Forest University School of Medicine is a part of Wake Forest University Health Sciences and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.. The school received more than $145 million in outside research support in the year that ended June 30.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is the Federal government''s lead agency for diabetes research. The Institute provided funding to begin the organization and initiation of the Type 1 Diabetes

Genetics Consortium Coordinating Center at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. More information about NIDDK can be found at www.niddk.nih.gov.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) is the world’s leading nonprofit, nongovernmental funder of diabetes research. The foundation was founded in 1970 by the parents of children with juvenile diabetes. Its mission is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. It provided the initial funding to help investigators organize what became the consortium. More information about JDRF can be found at www.jdrf.org.

Funding for the Consortium was made possible by appropriation of funds for Type 1 diabetes to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases through the efforts of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus. Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC) is an active member of the House Diabetes Caucus, and joined 273 of his House colleagues in sending a letter to President Bush earlier this year to advocate increased funding for juvenile diabetes research.

"Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is continually recognized as one of our nation''s finest academic medical centers," said Congressman Richard Burr. "The Center''s internationally valued research has contributed the highest levels of scholarship and integrity to the biomedical research community. I am pleased to see the Center receive continual federal funding for their positive efforts and look forward to a continued collaboration between the government and the Center to further the search for a cure to diabetes."


Contact: Robert Conn, Jim Steele or Mark Wright at (336) 716-4587

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