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NIH announces new strategic plan to combat diabetes

Multiple stakeholders tapped to develop roadmap for preventing, treating and finding a cure

A new strategic plan to guide diabetes-related research over the next decade was announced today by the National Institutes of Health. The plan, developed by a federal work group led by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), identifies research opportunities with the greatest potential to benefit the millions of Americans who are living with or at risk for diabetes and its complications.

"By setting priorities and identifying the most compelling research opportunities, the strategic plan will guide NIH, other federal agencies and the investigative community in efforts to improve diabetes treatments and identify ways to keep more people healthy," said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D.

The plan, Advances and Emerging Opportunities in Diabetes Research: A Strategic Planning Report of the Diabetes Mellitus Interagency Coordinating Committee, focuses on 10 areas of diabetes research with the most promise. The goal is to accelerate discovery on several fronts, including:

  • the relationship between obesity and type 2 diabetes, and how both conditions may be affected by genetics and environment
  • the autoimmune mechanisms at work in type 1 diabetes
  • the biology of beta cells, which release insulin in the pancreas
  • development of artificial pancreas technologies to improve management of blood sugar levels
  • prevention of complications of diabetes that affect the heart, eyes, kidneys, nervous system and other organs
  • reduction of the impact of diabetes on groups disproportionately affected by the disease, including the elderly and racial and ethnic minorities
Under the plan, NIH will continue to emphasize clinical research in humans, which already has led to highly effective methods for managing diabetes and preventing complications, Rodgers said.

The NIH strategy for fighting diabetes addresses type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, which affects about 5 percent of individuals with diagnosed diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that most often develops during childhood. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diagnosed diabetes cases in the United States, and is strongly associated with overweight and obesity. In addition, the plan addresses gestational diabetes, a condition that some women develop during pregnancy, but which usually goes away after their child is born. Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and the child of that pregnancy may also be at increased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Today, about 1 in 10 adults in the United States has diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1.9 million Americans aged 20 years or older were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2010. In addition, an estimated 79 million American adults have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. By 2050, as many as 1 in 3 adults could be diagnosed with diabetes if current trends continue, according to the CDC. The projection assumes that recent increases in new cases of diabetes will continue and people with diabetes will also live longer, which adds to the total number of people with the disease.

Diabetes eventually damages nearly every organ system in the body. People with diabetes are at increased risk for blindness, kidney failure, and lower limb amputation. Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people of similar age without diabetes. In addition, it is a very expensive disease to manage. Total costs of diabetes, including medical care, disability, and premature death, reached an estimated $174 billion in 2007 in the United States.

The plan was developed by the Diabetes Mellitus Interagency Coordinating Committee (DMICC) (http://www2.niddk.nih.gov/AboutNIDDK/CommitteesAndWorkingGroups/DMICC/), a congressionally authorized workgroup chaired by the NIDDK. Established in 1974, the DMICC facilitates cooperation, communication, and collaboration on diabetes research across the federal government. Key elements of the report were identified by multiple public and private stakeholders, including representatives of DMICC member agencies, health advocacy groups and external scientists who are leaders in the diabetes research field. To ensure broad input, a draft of the strategic plan was also posted for public comment prior to publication. The strategic plan is available electronically at http://diabetesplan.niddk.nih.gov/. Printed copies can be requested from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse beginning April 1, 2011, at 1-800-860-8747 and by email at ndic@info.niddk.nih.gov. Single copies are free.

The NIDDK, a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conducts and supports research on diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutrition and obesity; and kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases. Spanning the full spectrum of medicine and afflicting people of all ages and ethnic groups, these diseases encompass some of the most common, severe and disabling conditions affecting Americans. For more information about the NIDDK and its programs, see www.niddk.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) - The Nation's Medical Research Agency - includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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