(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
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
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.