A visit Friday by the new executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation gave Georgia Health Sciences University researcher Jin-Xiong She a chance to say thank you.
“The very first funding I had was from JDRF,” he told Trey Moore as they stood in She’s laboratory at GHSU. She is now the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine at GHSU and a researcher into Type 1 diabetes and how complications from diabetes begin. A GHSU-based study, called The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young, includes two others sites in the U.S. and three in Europe. Researchers have screened samples from more than 500,000 newborns, identified hundreds at high risk for developing the disease and are scouring their genetic material to find better biomarkers and elicit how it begins, She told Moore.
In another study, the researchers are following 5,000 to 6,000 patients who already have Type 1 diabetes to be able to better predict who will develop complications from the disease.
Moore, making his first trip to Augusta and GHSU, called it a fact-finding mission that will give him a better view of the diabetes and research community in the state. He can relay that information to donors, for example, to let them know how their resources are returning to the community and state, he said.
The JDRF has invested nearly $6 million into GHSU since 2004, he said. It has a larger impact is at the federal level, helping the National Institutes of Health create funding for diabetes research that then supports the newborn study and other large studies at GHSU, She said.
Still, both sides said they could do more. The Georgia chapter of the JDRF tends to be “Atlanta-centric,” Moore said.
“But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of resources throughout the state that we need to reach out to,” he said.
All of the group’s paid staffers are in Atlanta, Moore said, and it relies on volunteers in places including Augusta to provide support and help organize fundraisers such as today’s Walk to Cure Diabetes. Putting a staffer in a place like Augusta “could pay off huge” in boosting research support, collaboration and fundraising, he said.
She said he would also like to see the foundation establish a diabetes research center at GHSU and help publicize all of the diabetes work being done not only there but also elsewhere in the state. Georgia isn’t known for its diabetes research even though it outshines many other states, he said.
“By changing that image, I think it will be helpful to everyone,” She said.