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ECU professor of surgery Walter Pories has received funding that will enable him to further his research on the relationship between bariatric surgery and diabetes remission. (Photo by Marc J. Kawanishi)


Grant Enables Study of Surgery's Effect on Diabetes

By Doug Boyd

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 March press conference 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.

The grant 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 to help morbidly obese people – typically those more than 100 pounds over their ideal body weight – lose weight and improve their health.

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 undergoing bariatric surgery have a full and lasting remission of their diabetes within a few days of undergoing the surgery.

“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 to determine if a medication could be developed to achieve the same result.

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, professor of surgery and past president of the ASBS; Dr. William Chapman, associate professor of surgery; Dr. John Pender, clinical assistant professor of surgery; Drs. Lynis Dohm and Edward Seidel, professors of physiology; Dr. Ying Chang, professor of pediatrics; and Dr. Hisham Barakat, biochemist and professor of internal medicine.

To facilitate cooperation among scientists in different university departments working toward treatments and cures for diabetes and other metabolic illnesses, ECU established the Metabolic Institute in 2005. Institute leaders hope to secure funding to plan and build a 230,000-square-foot center housing clinical research areas, laboratories, educational facilities and data-management resources. More than $17.4 million of diabetes- and obesity-related research is ongoing at the institute. 

In 2003, ECU was one of six centers nationwide designated by the National Institutes of Health to work together to develop a deeper understanding of obesity and standards for its surgical treatment. ECU is receiving $1.3 million from the NIH to fund its part of the investigation.

This page originally appeared in the April 17, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at