NIH grant links LI researcher to top diabetes study

Brain matters: How do diabetes and its myriad treatments affect neurocognitive functions? Researchers from NYU Winthrop Hospital are aiming to find out.

A multiyear federal grant will plug a top Long Island researcher into medical science’s foremost diabetes study.

Alan Jacobson, chief research officer at Mineola-based NYU Winthrop Hospital, has secured a $4.23 million stipend from the National Institutes of Health to study the long-term neurocognitive effects of type 1 diabetes. The five-year grant will help Jacobson better understand how the disease – which affects more than 1.25 million Americans, according to the NIH – affects brain functions.

That data will then inform the international Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions & Complications study, a long-term follow-up to the late 20th century’s famous Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, a medical study conducted by the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Observing 1,441 volunteers from the United States and Canada between 1983 and 1993, the DCCT significantly altered diabetes treatment protocols. The EDIC has picked up where it left off, tracking some 90 percent of the original volunteers – who were limited to patients with type 1 diabetes only – to determine the long-term effects of the disease and various treatments.

It’s a critically important study to those 1.25 million Americans and 422 million people around the globe (as of 2014, according to the World Health Organization) suffering from type 1 diabetes, who are at risk of developing microvascular and cardiovascular complications that lead to other diseases, death and, at a minimum, spiraling healthcare costs.

But after more than 30 years, neither the EDIC or the DCCT has specifically tracked the effects of diabetes and its treatments on brain functions.

Alan Jacobson: Thinking cap.

Enter Jacobson and his NYU Winthrop team, who will use magnetic-resonance imaging technologies and cognitive-testing techniques to answer questions about the causes of diabetes-related neurocognitive malfunctions, including structural defaults and thinking-process breakdowns.

Noting NYU Winthrop’s “major commitment” to diabetes research, Jacobson – principal investigator for the new NIH grant – said he is “very enthusiastic” about supporting the hospital’s “ambitious research mission.”

And while the study will focus specifically on how three decades of blood-sugar control and other diabetes-treatment protocols affect brain structure and function, the NIH-funded work will actually influence a range of research efforts and treatment standards, according to Jacobson.

“This research has strong connections to other areas of clinical care and investigations being carried out [at NYU Winthrop],” the doctor said.

Ultimately, Jacobson’s team will attempt to determine “key predictors of neurocognitive impairments,” according to NYU Winthrop, and to “guide strategies to mitigate this risk,” particularly in patients 50 years and older suffering from longstanding type 1 diabetes.

Jacobson, who received his medical degree from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine and has served as NYU Winthrop’s chief research officer since 2010, said his team is ready to help rewrite the diabetes-treatment playbook once more – this time, by addressing long-unanswered questions about the neurocognitive conditions of older diabetes patients.

“Patients have increasing concerns about the extent to which diabetes can influence cognitive ability and brain functioning as they enter the age of greatest risk for impairment,” the research scientist said. “This study can help determine whether these effects occur and help identify modifiable risk factors that can be addressed by proper treatment.”

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