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May 2006

by Natalie Gutierrez

Hundreds of children will be going on a safari beginning this summer. But this isnít any ordinary safari. This journey could help keep them healthy throughout their youth and into their adult years.

The San Antonio Family Assessment of Metabolic Risk Indicators in Youth study, or SAFARI, will look for early warning signs of a dangerous condition called metabolic syndrome in 750 Mexican-American children ages 6 to 17.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health problems including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, unhealthy levels of fat in the blood or abdomen, and insulin resistance. These problems increase a personís risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

"More than 47 million Americans are affected by metabolic syndrome," said Ravindranath Duggirala, Ph.D., adjunct associate professor of medicine at the Health Science Center and associate scientist of genetics at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR). He is principal investigator of the study.

"Within the last two decades weíve seen an increase in metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in children, especially in overweight Mexican-American children. Some children as young as 4 are already afflicted with metabolic syndrome," Dr. Duggirala said.

The goal of the study is to learn how genetics, diet, physical activity and lifestyle all work together to determine a childís susceptibility to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

The children who enroll in SAFARI will be the children of parents who participated in earlier studies at the Health Science Center and the SFBR, including the San Antonio Family Heart Study, the Veterans Administration Genetic Epidemiology Study and the San Antonio Family Diabetes and Gallbladder Study.

"The children are the real heroes of this study," said study coordinator Sharon Fowler, M.P.H., faculty associate in the division of clinical epidemiology.

"Each child spends about seven hours undergoing a series of tests at the Texas Diabetes Institute. They are all so patient and willing. We let them know that they may help other children."

Daniel Hale, M.D., professor of pediatrics and chief of the division of pediatric endocrinology and diabetes, is the medical director of the study.

"The childrenís participation is vital because it allows us to find the early signs of diabetes, watch for changes and see how these signs predict long-term outcomes," Dr. Hale said. "It is certainly a journey for both the researchers and the families to see how family history will affect future generations, and how we can help achieve healthy outcomes for these families."

The study is funded by a $2.3 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, and is a collaborative effort of the Health Science Center, the SFBR, the University Center for Community Health/Texas Diabetes Institute and the UT Health Science Center Ė Houston School of Public Health, San Antonio program.

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