World Diabetes Day means a lot to UA scientist

November 17, 2008

By hammersmith

[Source: Anthony Cabrera, KVOA Tucson] – November 14 is World Diabetes Day. It’s a day meant to bring awareness to the alarming rise in this disease, which some say is an epidemic.

Researchers continue to find new treatments for diabetes, including here in Tucson.
At the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine there is one scientist who has an emotional connection to her research. Betsy Dokken is a principal investigator in diabetes research.

She’s working on a treatment that will one day help diabetes patients who also have heart problems. Reaching that goal means a lot to Betsy because last year she lost her mother who battled the same condition.

“She had a history of heart problems related to her diabetes, so yeah, that provides me with a lot of ammunition,” says Dokken.

Armed with that ammunition Betsy is ready to fight the disease that led to her mother’s death and affects many more.

“Patients with diabetes are two to five times more likely to have a heart attack than patients without diabetes. And when they do have a heart attack, their heart attacks are worse,” she says.

Through her research, Betsy hopes to decrease the heart damage that’s done. But heart disease is just one aspect of the complex epidemic of diabetes that has many scientists looking for answers.

“So some of us are working on diabetes prevention, some of us are working on treatment for diabetes, some of us are working on trying to figure out exactly what causes the different defects in diabetes,” says Dokken.

And they’re all on the 4th floor at the medical research building.

“This concept of an open lab really promotes more collaboration. I think we would collaborate anyway, but it makes it easier to collaborate when our labs are right next door to each other,” says Dokken.

A strategic set-up for a complicated disease.

“We know that diabetes is an epidemic and it is a worldwide epidemic. It’s not just here in the United States. And to have the United Nations set aside a day to increase awareness of diabetes around the world, is important to us, of course,” she says.

Because even Betsy, a diabetes researcher, has been touched by it and knows it could be in her future.

“We already have defects in our muscle metabolism and there are other defects that can be detected, even in someone like me, right now, because I have a family history of type 2 diabetes, so it does hit home for me,” says Betsy.

Diabetes is the sixth-deadliest disease in the country according to the Diabetes Research Institute. Nearly 8 percent of Americans have diabetes.