Curing the consequences

Diabetes center receives $10.8 million grant

Friday, October 26, 2012

by Sarah Terry-Cobo

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – A major multimillion-dollar grant was awarded to advance diabetes research, University of Oklahoma President David Boren announced Thursday at a press conference at the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center.

Researchers at the center received $10.8 million for five years from the federally funded National Institutes for Health. The funding is the third grant exceeding $10 million that OU research centers have received in 30 days.

But the national funding isn’t enough and more is needed to further critical research, said Dr. Timothy Lyons, a mentor on the grant.

Though peer-reviewed federal funding is important to research centers such as the diabetes center, private support is a crucial component, said Lyons, who is also Chickasaw Nation chairman in diabetes research and director of research and scientific affairs at the center. Harold Hamm’s initial and continued private donations to the diabetes center are a crucial component, Lyons said. Hamm, president, founder and CEO of the oil company Continental Resources, has given more than $30 million since the center’s inception.

The center’s five-year goal is to help the principal investigator and four junior researchers become independent to run their own laboratories, and attract more peer-reviewed funding in order to recruit more talented scientists, he said. The center won’t cure diabetes in five years, Lyons said. But he said he anticipates that researchers will develop cures for some of the consequences of the disease, such as kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, blindness and amputations.

Jian-xing Ma is an endocrinologist, laureate chairman and professor of medicine at OU and is the principal investigator for the grant. In addition to funding Ma’s research, the NIH grant will fund four projects by junior investigators. Franklin Hays is studying tissue damage. Kenneth Humphries is studying cardiovascular complications associated with diabetes-related heart disease. Yun Le is studying vision loss. Jian Xu is studying drugs for treatment of vascular damage caused by diabetes.

The funding for the second phase of this grant is not threatened by federal budget cuts, Lyon said. However, research nationally receives only 1 percent of money spent on health care, he said. In Oklahoma, diabetes-related illnesses cause about $2 billion to $3 billion in health care costs per year. Because many types of diabetes are preventable, Lyon said he hopes that public health will play a larger role in diabetes research – specifically, more emphasis on changing people’s diet and exercise habits.

Boren told The Journal Record that the diabetes center has become one of the top four or five research centers in the country since its inception in 2003. Boren said private donations from Hamm and other philanthropists were key to establishing the diabetes center as a top research facility in less than 10 years.

“We never would have received state appropriations this quickly,” Boren said. “Harold Hamm’s contributions were the difference maker.”