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Do mothers pass on diabetes genes?
UTHSC researchers investigate
(12-31-01)

New research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio will seek to characterize the "thrifty genes" that may be associated with diabetes and to determine whether these genes are inherited from mothers.

Thrifty genes are thought to be responsible for conserving energy for survival during food scarcity and may be responsible for obesity in times of food abundance. Allied health researcher George Kudolo, Ph.D., associate professor of clinical laboratory studies at the Health Science Center, believes these genes may be involved in the recent increase of type 2 diabetes in minority children.

Researchers will screen about 1,000 African-American and Mexican-American 8- to 10-year-olds in search of about 100 minority children with significant risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes mellitus. The risk factors include obesity and increased fasting insulin levels. The researchers then will analyze the thrifty mitochondrial DNA from the children and their mothers.

After initial assessment, the children and their mothers will participate in an eight-part intervention program in which they will be taught about diabetes and its complications, the importance of exercise in delaying diabetes and how to select food to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The study will track the children for eight to 10 years, or until they complete high school.

"Through this study, we hope to understand how the assimilation of the two ethnic groups from two different anthropological backgrounds to the American culture of excessive food, and typically unhealthy fast food, have influenced those genes," Dr. Kudolo said.

"During the next couple of years, we hope to show that having the diabetes gene or other biochemical diabetes risk factors is not a death warrant," he added. "If you take good care of yourself, you may not develop the disease."

The grant, titled "Mitochondrial Genome and Early Diabetes Intervention in Minority School-Age Children in San Antonio," is for $335,360 from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board through its Minority Health Research and Education Grant Program. Dr. Kudolo's project was one of eight selected for funding from 59 applications.

The study's co-investigators are Linda Smith, Ph.D., professor of clinical laboratory sciences, and Shirlyn McKenzie, Ph.D., professor and chairman of clinical laboratory sciences. The grant is conducted in partnership with M-Al Salih, Ph.D., director of The DNA Reference Laboratory, and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. The research will be conducted in the General Clinical Research Center at the Audie Murphy Division of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

Contact: Aileen Salinas