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HCOM student develops new test for quicker diagnosis and treatment of Type 1 diabetes

This was one of my favorite stories to write. I talked to a bunch of interesting people.

(Photo Provided via Ben Siegel/Ohio University)


Identifying a life-altering disease before it claims a vital organ is undoubtedly a step many doctors and patients alike wish to take, but it is unfortunately not always an option.

However, following two years of research, development and optimization, an Ohio University medical student might have granted this collective wish for one of the most common and currently incurable autoimmune diseases: Type 1 diabetes.

LaDonya Jackson, a second-year graduate student in OU’s Heritage Osteopathic College of Medicine, engineered an innovative medical test that makes checking for Type 1 diabetes more expedient and proactive than the traditional method, which is only effective when the disease has already caused significant damage to the pancreas.

With the assistance of two HCOM faculty mentors, Dr. Kelly McCall and Dr. Frank Schwartz, Jackson discovered a technique to measure the level of beta cells in the human pancreas.

Pancreatic beta cells function to create insulin, an essential hormone that tells the body to break down glucose from food and turn it into energy the body can use, Jackson said. Diabetes is diagnosed when all beta cells in a person’s pancreas are destroyed.

Unlike the traditional test for Type 1 diabetes that measures the accumulated reservoir of un-signaled glucose, Jackson’s new test focuses on recognizing the destruction of beta cells before all of them are wiped out.

Jackson compared the test to preparing to defend oneself from a certain attack rather than filing a police report after the attack.

Using this proactive method, health professionals might have the chance to quell the progression of the disease and “intervene with therapies” before the disease fully takes hold, McCall, an associate professor of endocrinology, said.

Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine breaks enrollment record and continues rising trend of recent years.

McCall said diabetes is one HCOM’s biggest focus areas, calling both types of the disease a “worldwide epidemic.” According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 29.1 million Americans were reported to have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes in 2014.

The Osteopathic Heritage Foundation provided funds for this project, along with money from an endowment by J.O. Watson awarded to Shwartz, a professor of endocrinology and director of HCOM’s Appalachian Rural Health InstituteDiabetes Center.

Originally from California, this is not Jackson’s first foray into scientific research. In her undergraduate studies at Utah State University, she worked to clone horses, specifically stallions and bucking bulls, which fetch a high price if genetically modified because of their sporting capabilities.

Despite wanting to work as a veterinarian since kindergarten, Jackson said the ability to transform life through science shifted her academic and career interests.

“You can change life, you can alter life, you can create life,” Jackson said about bioengineering. “You have so much potential with the knowledge that we have now.”

Jackson and her mentors are currently pursuing a patent for the test.

“We would love to have this in the hospital,” Jackson said. “To let people and children be tested to see if they’re going to develop (Type 1 diabetes) so we can protect them.”



HCOM opens up a new human clinical trial facility

(Photo provided)


Human experiments will begin to take place on Ohio University’s main campus this summer, but, don’t worry, they’re part of the curriculum.

OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine opened a new facility April 30, geared toward conducting clinical trials and other studies on human subjects.

The college’s new space, located in Irvine Hall on West Green, houses the newly created “Clinical & Translational Research Unit.” Occupying nearly 4,000 square feet, the converted facility is equipped with patient examination rooms, an exercise physiology laboratory, an electrophysiology laboratory, a phlebotomy room, imaging facilities and a laboratory processing station, according to a news release.

Through OU-HCOM’s medical clinics, students can learn and observe basic skills while helping patients.

Through its Vision 2020: Leading the Transformation of Primary Care Award, the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation provided $6 million in startup funding for the unit, which was used to purchase “vital equipment,” medical supplies and a staff, Dr. Laura Rush, the executive director of the unit, said.

OU also worked with the college during the move.

The Clinical & Translational Research Unit looks to support OU faculty in various aspects of clinical trials, including budget development, project coordination, subject recruitment, data collection and institutional review board assistance, according to the release.

OU students have the opportunity to utilize the unit either to assist in studies or to conduct their own studies under the supervision of a faculty mentor, Rush said.

Nearly 60 percent of OU-HCOM’s graduates currently practice in the state of Ohio.

The faculty of the Clinical & Translational Research Unit consists of eight people, which, along with the Rush, include a medical director, two research nurses, two projects managers, an administrative associate and a clinical research scientist.

Rush applauded her staff as people who love the Athens community and want to move health care forward.

“We have top-notch staff who know clinical trials, maintain the high standards required for patient safety and observe meticulous record keeping,” she said in the release.

Rush also said that because of the degree of difficulty faced when conducting clinical trials, the new facility would allow faculty to help better execute them from start to finish and allow the scientists to focus on science.

HCOM Executive Dean Kenneth H. Johnson said the unit will give the college recognition as a program for cutting-edge clinical research.

“Clinical studies that tackle pervasive health problems bring attention to the college and the university,” he said in the release. “They open the door to more opportunities for collaboration and funding, which are essential to help researchers advance medical care in our communities.”