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ECU receives grant to study effect of surgery on diabetes

Dr. Walter Pories speaks with ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard following a press conference to announce a grant from Johnson & Johnson to study diabetes at ECU. Photo by Marc Kawanishi
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Mar. 21, 2006)   —   East Carolina University researchers have received a $491,000 grant from Johnson & Johnson to look for new treatments for diabetes that potentially could help patients overcome the disease.

University officials, Johnson & Johnson executives and Sen. Richard Burr announced the grant at a press conference today at ECU.

"There's tremendous data at East Carolina that shows they're onto something that could be a significant breakthrough," Burr said, adding he's pleased to see the collaboration between a public university and the private sector. "This is how the model should work. It's leveraging all the assets we have in the United States that the rest of the world can't do because they don't have the infrastructure."

The grant from Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson will fund a two-year clinical study of adults with diabetes to evaluate insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism before and after gastric-bypass surgery. Gastric-bypass, or bariatric, surgery is an operation that reduces the size of the stomach and reroutes the small intestine with the primary goal of helping morbidly obese people -- typically those more than 100 pounds over their ideal body weight -- lose weight and improve their health.

As a byproduct of the surgery, Dr. Walter Pories, an ECU professor of surgery and bariatric surgery pioneer, has observed that four out of five patients who had type 2 diabetes before the surgery have a full and lasting remission of their diabetes within a few days of undergoing the surgery.

In the United States, 21.8 million people, or 7 percent of the population, have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This grant is key to the work that ECU scientists are doing as they pursue a cure for this disease," said ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard. "Dr. Pories and his colleagues are at the forefront of diabetes research, and this support will ensure their ability to continue their path-breaking investigations."

Researchers hope to pinpoint the cause of this surgical "cure" of diabetes in the severely obese to determine if a medication could be developed to achieve the same result.

"We are excited to have the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Pories and his colleagues at ECU, who are ground-breaking leaders in this field," said Dr. Leona Brenner-Gati, vice president of science and technology at Johnson & Johnson. "We expect the results of this study will provide important information on how factors in the gut contribute to the development of diabetes, which will lead to new therapies to combat this disease."

Diabetes develops when the body either fails to produce insulin, known as type 1, or juvenile-onset diabetes, or develops insulin resistance, known as type 2 diabetes, or the adult form. Type 2 is much more common, accounting for 93 percent of all cases. Both types, however, are associated with several serious or life-threatening conditions including heart disease and stroke, nerve damage, kidney disease and blindness.

"Not too long ago, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome were thought to be non-reversible syndromes in morbidly obese patients," Pories said. "It turns out that changes in the plumbing of the gut can reverse them. How does this occur? How does this operation produce these effects? These are complicated questions on a molecular basis."

Pories developed the most widely used version of the gastric bypass, the Greenville Bypass, and is a past president of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. Other ECU faculty members participating in the studies are Dr. Kenneth MacDonald, a professor of surgery and past president of the ASBS; Dr. William Chapman, an associate professor of surgery; Dr. John Pender, a clinical assistant professor of surgery; Drs. Lynis Dohm and Edward Seidel, professors of physiology; Dr. Ying Chang, a professor of pedi


Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2481