ULM pharmacy researcher awarded $1.7 million NIH grant to study diabetes

courtesy: MGN Online
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MONROE, La (ULM News Release) - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded University of Louisiana Monroe professor Dr. Karen Briski a five-year $1.7 million grant that may one day lead to a life-changing treatment of Type-1 diabetes.

This research project grant (R01) is the largest single grant awarded to a faculty member in the history of ULM.

“The competition for federal research dollars is fierce, with award rates in the 10 to 30% range. R01 funding from NIH is one of the more competitive instruments, so this award signals how well-respected scientists view the quality of Dr. Briski's previous research and the importance of the discoveries anticipated from her laboratory's work,” said Dr. Eric Pani, ULM’s VP of Academic Affairs.

Briski’s research will focus on a completely novel way of protecting nerve cells from injury due to hypoglycemia by investigating how estrogen can increase energy stored in the brain.

Hypoglycemia is a recurring side effect of strict insulin therapy to stabilize blood glucose (sugar) levels in Type-1 diabetes patients. It poses a significant risk for nerve cell damage and neurological dysfunction.

Fear of hypoglycemia can deter diabetic patients from rigorous management of glucose, which can result in overly-high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. In the long-term, repeated hyperglycemia can lead to blindness, skin infections, organ damage and nerve damage in the feet and hands.

Studies have shown that the stress and anxiety of maintaining proper glucose levels can lower a patient’s quality of life. But Briski hopes to improve the quality of life of these patients by reducing harmful effects of hypoglycemia.

“Diabetic patients are found in every community. Hypoglycemia is an unavoidable aspect of their daily lives. If our outcomes here can lead us on the road to developing a therapeutic strategy whereby their brain is less vulnerable to injury and damage during hypoglycemic episodes, then it is going to have a major benefit to their quality of life,” Briski said.

Briski’s studies suggest that estrogen plays a beneficial role in increasing the amount of glycogen (stored glucose) in the brain and facilitating its release during episodes of hypoglycemia.

Estrogen is best known as a major sex hormone in women but it is also present in males at lower levels. However, it also has other uses in the body. Briski believes that estrogen releases stored glucose in specific regions of the brain, so she plans to target her research to these areas.

Briski credits this innovative approach to the “unparalleled level of resolution” that the School of Pharmacy has brought to this field of research by being able to dissect individual nerve cells and measure proteins produced by single populations of these cells.

This level of “microdissection” is accomplished through the use of state-of-the-art laser catapult technology that ULM president Dr. Nick J. Bruno helped acquire several years ago.

“Dr. Bruno was instrumental in procuring as part of my startup what is called the Zeiss Laser Catapult Microdissection instrument as well as a confocal microscope. Both are two state-of-the-art instruments and much of my scholarly and grantsmanship success over the last couple years has been the use of these instruments,” said Briski.

Over the next five years, Briski will be joined by four other ULM researchers, who served as co-investigators on the grant: Dr. Paul Sylvester, Dr. Seetharama Jois, Dr. Christopher Gissendanner, and Dr. Sami Nazzal.
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About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
Founded in 1887, the National Institutes of Health today is one of the world's foremost medical research centers, and the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States. The NIH, comprising 27 separate Institutes and Centers, is one of eight health agencies of the Public Health Service which, in turn, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.