University professor receives award for diabetes research Assistant Professor Dr. Da-Qing Yang at The University of South Dakota School of Medicine is the recipient of the Young Investigator Scientific Achievement and Travel Award from the 2004 Fifth Annual Rachmiel Levine Diabetes and Obesity Symposium in Los Angeles.�
The award was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association, and the Juvenile Diabetes and Research Foundation. As a result of the Award, Dr. Yang was invited to give an oral presentation at the Division of Basic Biomedical Sciences meeting to discuss two of his ongoing projects targeting diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects approximately 18.2 million Americans, only two thirds of which are currently diagnosed and under treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the nation's fifth largest cause of death and the leading cause of blindness, lower limb amputations, and kidney transplants. It is responsible for close to $135 billion in annual health care costs.�
Dr. Yang has integrated his research experience into teaching, mentoring, and scientific education. Diabetes has become an epidemic disease nationwide and is particularly a problem in South Dakota and the Native American population. Native Americans have the highest incidence of Type 2 diabetes of any ethnic group. Diabetes usually is two to three times more common in Native Americans than the general population, with their mortality rate from complications 4.5 times greater than the Caucasian population.
"My initial focus was on diabetes research," said Yang. "But after I learned how severe the problem is for the Native Americans in South Dakota, I wanted to do something. Integration of my research with the scientific education for young American Indian students may be the best way for me to help."
During the summer of 2004, Dr. Yang organized and taught a biomedical summer workshop to a group of Native American high school students in the Math and Science Initiative Program (MSIP) of the TRIO programs at USD. This workshop consisted of lectures and laboratory sessions.
During the workshop, the students learned both basic biomedical research techniques and knowledge about insulin resistance, Type 2 and Type 1 diabetes, and risk factors.
Through the support of the South Dakota Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (SD BRIN) program at the university, Dr. Yang's group is establishing a collaboration with Oglala Lakota College (OLC) of South Dakota for a study looking at the use of the leaf extracts from the tropical plant bitter melon, Memordica charantia, to treat diabetes and obesity. During the summer of 2004, two undergraduate students from OLC were trained in Dr. Yang's laboratory. Both students presented their results obtained during the summer research at the 2004 Annual National SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) meeting.
In the future, Dr. Yang will not only continue to work with TRIO and BRIN programs to teach and mentor Native American high school and undergraduate students, he also plans to recruit Native American graduate students to work on the diabetes projects in his laboratory.
One project in Dr. Yang's laboratory, currently supported by the American Diabetes Association, is focused on Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes. Although the cause of Type 2 diabetes is still unclear, it is known that insulin resistance is closely related to the development of this disease. Insulin resistance occurs when the body fails to use its own insulin which results in elevated levels of glucose in the body. The grant-funded research of Dr. Yang may lead to new treatments for Type 2 diabetes.�
A second project in Yang's laboratory targets Type 1 diabetes, a juvenile diabetes. The risk of developing Type 1 diabetes in children is higher than all other severe chronic diseases of childhood. People with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin on their own. This project, supported through a National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation grant received by USD, is a collaborative project between Yang's lab and researchers at the Nucleotech Company in Sioux Falls.
The goal of Dr. Yang and the collaborators is to change non-insulin producing skin cells from a Type 1 diabetic patient into cells that produce insulin. If the research is successful, doctors could transplant the reprogrammed cells back into the patient to cure the disease.