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New research from U of U could lead to prevention of diabetic complications

SALT LAKE CITY -- New research that cannot be done anywhere else in the world is happening in Salt Lake City.

The University of Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have teamed up to help study many types of medical conditions, including complications of Type 1 diabetes. The LDS Church gave The U of U its genealogical data from millions of Utahns dating back hundreds of years.

“It’s amazing collaboration between the University of Utah and the Mormon Church that has the amazing genealogical records from the pioneers that came over here in the mid 1800s; what they've done is partner up with the University to allow researchers access to that data,” said Marcus Pezzolesi, a University of Utah research scientist and geneticist.

Pezzolesi said he worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center for more than a decade on potential causes of kidney failure in diabetic patients. But the research was slow-moving because they didn’t have family records dating back hundreds of years.

“Those types of studies really can't be done anywhere else in the world," he said. "We've tried over the past several years using unrelated individuals, and because this is a complex disease that is a challenge. But using families, and these families are enormous as far as the number of going from founders to current lower branches of these pedigrees, I think that can really help to lower our search.”

Pezzolesi’s team is using the hospital's electronic data to match genes with the LDS Church’s data. If he finds a gene that poses a higher risk for people to be diagnosed with kidney disease, then he can work to manipulate that gene and make it so kidney disease is preventable one day.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where a critical hormone is no longer produced from the pancreas. It’s called insulin, and you need it to open up your body’s cells to break down the nutrition in your food consumption. Type 1 diabetes also can cause a slew of debilitating complications, even death.

“Complications like… retinopathy, which are eye complications, nerve complications, and the kidney complications I think are among the most devastating," Pezzolesi said. "They really change a person's life. They can be quite debilitating. Approximately 40 percent of all patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes develop this complication. It's a progressive disease… it leads them to go on to dialysis or seek a kidney transplant.”

Pezzolesi’s team receives funding partially from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Chapter. Every year, JDRF raises money to fund for a cure.

The local JDRF chapter called the Mountain Valley chapter is hosting its JDRF One Walk this Saturday in Salt Lake City at Liberty Park at 8:00 a.m.

You can join the Fox 13 team by going to the link’s below. Fox 13’s Danica Lawrence is a Type 1 diabetic and is the captain of the Fox 13 JDRF walking team. You can also donate by clicking on the links below.

Fox 13 JDRF Walking Team

You can also join or learn more by following Danica on Facebook and Twitter. 

Pezzolesi’s team at U of U takes volunteers for his research. It includes a one-time blood sample and a short questionnaire. He said they are interested in anyone who wants to participate, and families too. Anyone interested can email his team: UtahDiabetesStudy@utah.edu