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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

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January 8, 2004


Research on juvenile diabetes
growing in scope


(L-R) Dr. Leigh Ann Newhook and Marie Grant.
Photo by HSIMS
(L-R) Dr. Leigh Ann Newhook and Marie Grant.

By Sharon Gray
Ongoing genetic studies of Type 1 diabetes in Newfoundland between researchers at Memorial and the Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children are gathering valuable information and increasing in scope.

Dr. Andrew Paterson
Photo submitted
Dr. Andrew Paterson

Pediatrician Dr. Leigh Anne Newhook and endocrinologist Dr. Joseph Curtis are heading up the study at Memorial in collaboration with principal investigator Dr. Andrew Paterson in Toronto. “Up to this point we’ve recruited 650 families who have Type 1 diabetic members,” said Dr. Newhook. “We were originally aiming for 500 families, now we’re aiming for 750 and we’re thinking of recruiting 1,000 if we get more funding.”

The project is funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF), which awarded $830,672(US) over three years in the summer of 2001. The project is also receiving some funding from Genome Canada as part of a larger project on diabetes in rats and mice.

“Because recruitment is going better than we expected, we’re pretty sure the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation will want us to continue,” said Dr. Newhook. “With this type of research, the more samples we have, the more valuable the information.”

Dr. Paterson said more than 2,100 DNA samples have been analyzed at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. He stays in constant contact with the Newfoundland team and visits the province twice a year to discuss results and meet with diabetes educators and physicians. He’s been to Corner Brook several times and in November he gave a presentation in Gander. In Toronto, he also promotes information about the project by speaking to chapters of JDRF.

What makes the information from Newfoundland particularly valuable is that the province has what is probably the highest rate of juvenile (Type 1) diabetes in the world. Dr. Curtis has been researching the incidence of diabetes in the province since 1987 and notes that because of Newfoundland’s small, homogenous mix of population there is a better chance of finding the variations in the genes responsible for the disease.

One of the studies in this research project has already found that the Avalon Peninsula has an incidence of 36 per 100,000 per year of children with juvenile diabetes and the rate is increasing by 1.25 per 100,000 per year. The study identified 294 children aged 0-14 years from the Avalon Peninsula diagnosed with juvenile diabetes over the period 1987-2002.

Research nurse Marie Grant heads up the research team at Memorial, and she works with diabetes educators and physicians throughout the province to recruit families. “We can’t access patients directly, we have to work with local team to get permission from their patients before we make contact. They pave the way for us – patients have a relationship with them and that helps. We have about 100 people feeding into this study, helping us recruit participants.”

Originally the study was only going to include families with Type 1 diabetic members in the pediatric population, but it has now expanded to include people up to any age, most of whom were diagnosed with the disease before 18. “It’s a chronic disease that affects people throughout their life and attacks many organ systems often leading to kidney failure, adult blindness and increased risk of a heart attract or stroke,” explained Dr. Paterson. “The life expectancy of people with Type 1 diabetes is shortened by an average of 15 years.

One goal of the JDRF-funded study is to develop a province-wide database including all patients with juvenile diabetes and obtain pedigrees of families to determine the recurrence of the disease in first-degree relatives. “What we want to do by collecting DNA from large numbers of families with juvenile diabetes is to study the genes that may be causing diabetes and ultimately help make the disease more manageable,” said Dr. Newhook.


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Next issue: January 22, 2003

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