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New UNC Center for Diabetes seeks to reduce health disparities

Chapel Hill, NC (September 26, 2011) -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a $3 million, 5-year grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to establish the UNC Center for Diabetes Translation Research to Reduce Health Disparities (CDTR). Its mission is to reduce diabetes-related disparities among poor and underserved populations by providing resources and support to foster translational research in North Carolina and beyond. The center's research will examine and compare different techniques for bringing effective preventive and therapeutic interventions into practice.

Currently, 1 in 9 adults in the U.S. (about 264 million) has Type 2 diabetes. If trends continue, projections suggest that 1 in 3 people may have the condition by 2050. Diabetes-related annual costs are currently $174 billion and may increase to $336 billion by 2034. Poor, minority and rural populations with limited access to health care suffer disproportionately. Especially in North Carolina, African-American, Hispanic and Native American populations have a higher rate of diabetes and related complications.

One of seven such centers in the nation established by the National Institutes of Health, the UNC CDTR will share resources and encourage collaboration on research that moves further along the translational continuum -- getting improved treatments applied in communities and validating that they make a difference. This critical step adds to the wealth of diabetes care and research already at UNC by over 200 researchers working on $350 million (since 2000) in funded research.

The UNC CDTR will leverage existing resources at the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, home of UNC's NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA). NC TraCS is part of a national consortium whose mission is to accelerate movement of research discoveries into patient therapies and community interventions. The UNC CDTR also will partner with UNC-Pembroke, Robeson County Health Department, Wake Forest University and East Carolina University.

The co-directors are Richard Davis, M.D., and Michael Pignone, M.D., M.P.H.

Davis, an ophthalmologist with expertise in telemedicine and telehealth as tools to support community translational research, will lead efforts to utilize technologies to improve health outcomes. He also will direct the administrative core and the enrichment program in the center. Pignone, chief of the division of general medicine with expertise in development of novel means for improving chronic illness prevention and care, will lead a nationally designated resource center to study and improve literacy and numeracy in diabetes. Problems with literacy and numeracy are common, and less-literate and numerate patients have more difficulty managing diabetes, in particular, because of the high demands the condition places for tracking food intake, monitoring blood sugar levels and following complex medication regimens.

The CDTR has a goal of engaging researchers to move new knowledge into clinical practice and into communities to improve health for people living with diabetes, or to prevent diabetes in those individuals at risk for developing diabetes. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, Ph.D., of the UNC departments of nutrition and medicine has worked in diabetes research for 20 years and will lead the CDTR pilot study program, which will fund new projects each year.

Alice Ammerman, Dr.P.H., a nutritionist who directs the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, a CDC-funded prevention research center, will lead efforts to connect the UNC CDTR with communities where health disparities exist. Efforts will include involving community members in diabetes research and working closely with UNC-Pembroke and the Robeson County Health Department.

Ammerman already is a leader in forging academic-community connections through NC TraCS's Community Engagement Core. Davis is a research navigator at NC TraCS, who guides other researchers through the processes of applying for research funding and accessing resources to complete their projects. Pignone has been involved with the development of diabetes care guidelines for the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association and the National Committee on Quality Assurance in Health Care.

"The UNC CDTR is an example of how proposed new centers can leverage existing NC TraCS resources to enhance their proposals. Going forward the center will continue to rely on NC TraCS to help us more quickly translate research findings into better diabetes prevention strategies and treatments," said Davis. "Our goal is improved health outcomes with regard to diabetes, not just in North Carolina but nationally."


Contact: Michelle A. Maclay
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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