BY Jennifer L. Berghom
WESLACO – The Knapp Community Care Foundation awarded The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley $1,989,727 over four years for the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute (STDOI) at the UTRGV School of Medicine, to conduct genomic research related to diabetes among residents in the Mid-Valley.
“We are grateful to the Knapp Community Care Foundation for its support of the UTRGV School of Medicine’s research endeavors into a disease that affects so many in the community,” said Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine and executive vice president for Health Affairs at UTRGV. “This grant will help the School of Medicine pursue its mission to engage in research that will advance scientific knowledge that will lead to the development of medicines and treatments.
“These discoveries ultimately will improve health outcomes for residents throughout the Rio Grande Valley and beyond,” he said.
UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the grant also will help UTRGV in its goal of becoming a premier research institution.
“The Knapp Community Care Foundation’s grant will bolster our efforts in conducting highly sophisticated scientific and biomedical research that will contribute to saving lives,” Bailey said. “It also is an indication that our community values the hard work and innovation of our students, faculty and staff at UTRGV, the School of Medicine and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute.”
The project, “Screening High Risk Families for Diabetes to Establish a Genomic Research Center in the Mid-Valley,” will focus on studying residents from the communities comprising the Mid-Valley – Edcouch, Elsa, La Blanca, La Villa, Mercedes, Monte Alto, San Carlos and Weslaco – to find links between genetic factors and increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease.
Scientists at the STDOI will work with clinical faculty and staff at the Knapp Medical Center/UTRGV Family Practice Residency Clinic and the School of Medicine’s Unimóvil, to identify individuals between the ages of 30 and 40 who have type 2 diabetes and are members of large families. The family members will be invited to participate in the study, which ultimately will recruit a total of 1,000 participants.
Participants will undergo a general physical exam and complete a health questionnaire. Those who need follow-up care will be referred to the Knapp Medical Center/UTRGV Family Practice Residency Clinic. Scientists from the STDOI will analyze blood samples from participants to identify genetic and environmental factors that are connected to increased risk for diabetes and related diseases.
“We are excited about the great opportunity the Knapp Community Care Foundation is providing us,” said Dr. Sarah Williams-Blangero, director of the STDOI. “This will be our first major recruitment in the Valley and will shape the future direction of research by STDOI scientists. Through this project, we will be able to not only learn more about the determinants of risk for type 2 diabetes, but we also will be able to provide screening to more than 150 families living in the Mid-Valley.”
The Knapp Community Care Foundation (KCCF) was created in late 2012 with a mission to improve the health of Mid-Valley families in the Rio Grande Valley – Deep South Texas. KCCF strategically invests in organizations that:
· Increase and improve quality healthcare access and nutritional education for the most health-stricken, uninsured or medically underserved populations in the service delivery area.
· Identify programs that offer innovation leading to improved wellness and fitness, and that support preventive healthcare and health education access.
· Support successful healthcare, educational, wellness programs already serving the most vulnerable population.
“It is critically important to the Knapp Community Care Foundation and its Board of Directors to support The UTRGV School of Medicine and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute on this groundbreaking genomic research,” said Yvonne “Bonnie” Gonzalez, chief executive officer of the Knapp Community Care Foundation. “We are honored to be part of this project and feel strongly that the knowledge gained could lead to new and improved interventions for diabetes in the future.”
Diabetes affects 30.3 million people the United States – nearly 10 percent of the country’s population – and 84 million have pre-diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the Rio Grande Valley, the prevalence of diabetes in Mexican Americans is estimated at 30 percent.
The disease has created a large economic burden, with $245 billion spent annually on patient care, loss of work time, disability and other related costs. Significant diabetes-related health disparities exist among Mexican Americans, who comprise more than 85 percent of the population in Hidalgo County, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
The project will run through Dec. 31, 2021.