A supplement to the Mission magazine highlighting advancements at the The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the heroes who help make them happen.
Vanguard - UT Health Science Center San Antonio
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Diabetes Detectives
Dr. Jenkinson and research team
The Team: Christopher Jenkinson, Ph.D., lead investigator (far right).
(L-R) Drs. Fabiola Fernandez, Mareel Fourcaudot, Luke Norton (seated) and Deidre Winnier.

Researchers at the Health Science Center were the first to develop the insulin clamp, the procedure considered to be the “gold standard” for measuring early metabolic changes leading to type 2 diabetes and related health problems. Now they’re propelling these developments to new heights by studying human genes to help prevent and potentially cure this deadly disease.

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Startling Statistics
  • 23.6 million people in the U.S. have diabetes
  • Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents
  • Risk of premature death among people with diabetes is twice that of people without it
  • Death from heart disease and risk of stroke is about 2 to 4 times higher in adults with diabetes than in those without it
Illumina BeadXpress system
Importance of funding
Private donations are more important than ever to fund equipment and resources to continue the fight against type 2 diabetes. For more information on how you can help support research at the Health Science Center,
call (210) 567-6395.
Research collaborators
Dr. Jenkinson’s team also includes Health Science Center collaborators Drs. Ralph A. DeFronzo, Devjit Tripathy, Shirley Lih-Lan Hu, Mike Stern, Donna Lehman and Dawn Coletta, and researchers from the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. The team has received more than $5.8 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and from the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation for these studies.

This year, researchers at the Health Science Center will perform the first study of its kind, measuring gene expression and insulin resistance simultaneously in human fat, muscle and blood samples from people with type 2 diabetes. Their goal is to detect the genes that make some people more susceptible to this complex disease than others.

Research goals
“Our genes have changed very little during the past few thousand years,” said Christopher Jenkinson, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and the lead investigator of the gene study. “We’ve just given them a bad place to live. Our environment affects our genes and plays a major role in our health. For example, over time our bodies have been increasingly exposed to an unhealthy lifestyle and diet. Thus, some of us become vulnerable to diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Ultimately, we hope to develop a process of identifying an individual’s susceptibility to type 2 diabetes by examining their genetic profile with a single drop of blood.”

New technology
The sequencing of the human genome (the genetic blueprint of humans) in 2003 took 15 years to complete and involved researchers from across the globe. With new technology that arrived at the Health Science Center this year, researchers will be able to precisely measure more than 1 million different DNA variations at a single time. Just 10 years ago, it was only possible to scan one variant at a time Dr. Jenkinson said.

The human genome is made up of 3 billion units of DNA encoding approximately 25,000 genes. The Illumina® BeadArray technology at the Health Science Center will allow researchers to examine DNA faster and more efficiently than ever before.

“Current genome-wide approaches to understanding the underlying cause of complex genetic diseases such as type 2 diabetes require an enormous investment in the high-tech, high-throughput equipment needed to take us to the next level,” Dr. Jenkinson said. “These studies are expensive because they also require sample sizes of thousands of individuals to detect the subtle gene-environment interactions that cause disease.”

Future of forecasting disease
Dr. Jenkinson predicts that within the next 10 to 15 years, researchers may offer enhanced testing to predict health risks for type 2 diabetes and will be able to provide more personalized and more targeted interventions with fewer side effects than are currently available.
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