With grant new center will address diabetes; American Indians

OKLAHOMA CITY - To address the diabetes crisis among American Indians, the National Institutes of Health has awarded J. Neil Henderson, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, a $6.6-million grant to establish a new research center in Oklahoma.

Henderson, a medical anthropologist at the OU College of Public Health and member of the Choctaw Nation, is working with several researchers from the OU Health Sciences Center to establish the Oklahoma Center for American Indian Diabetes Health Disparities.

The new center will be part of work being conducted at the larger Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Center and further strengthens the partnership between the Diabetes Center and the OU College of Public Health.

Research at the new health disparities center will focus primarily on the impact of diabetes on maternal health, infant mortality and obesity. Its purpose is to reduce and eventually eliminate the excess mortality and morbidity associated with diabetes, and regain the quality of life and culture lost to the disease.

"Diabetes is a complex, escalating disease with biological and social roots. The need to reduce and prevent diabetes in American Indian people is urgent. It will take a team to stop its progress," said Henderson, one of the few principal investigators in the country who is American Indian.

Oklahoma ranks at the top among all states in the per capita number of citizens who suffer from diabetes. American Indians are three times as likely to have diabetes as others, and those who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to develop heart disease, blindness and other serious problems.

The five-year grant from the NIH's National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities will fund research in several areas, including diabetes management and beliefs, pre-eclampsia, insulin resistance, diabetic foot health, exercise and education. It also will be used to increase the number of children who attend the Native Youth Preventing Diabetes summer camp.

"The OU College of Public Health is committed to understanding and preventing diabetes and other diseases that afflict disproportionately the American Indian community," said Gary Raskob, dean of the College of Public Health. "Continued support for the development of these public health strategies is paramount to our success."

The new Oklahoma Center for American Indian Diabetes Health Disparities is a collaboration among researchers from the OU Health Sciences Center and health professionals at Indian health centers in Ada, Tallihina and Oklahoma City as well as with members of the Area Inter-Tribal Health Board, which covers all Indian tribes in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.