This was one of my favorite stories to write. I talked to a bunch of interesting people.
(Photo Provided via Ben Siegel/Ohio University)
Identifying a life-altering disease before it claims a vital organ is undoubtedly a step many doctors and patients alike wish to take, but it is unfortunately not always an option.
However, following two years of research, development and optimization, an Ohio University medical student might have granted this collective wish for one of the most common and currently incurable autoimmune diseases: Type 1 diabetes.
LaDonya Jackson, a second-year graduate student in OU’s Heritage Osteopathic College of Medicine, engineered an innovative medical test that makes checking for Type 1 diabetes more expedient and proactive than the traditional method, which is only effective when the disease has already caused significant damage to the pancreas.
With the assistance of two HCOM faculty mentors, Dr. Kelly McCall and Dr. Frank Schwartz, Jackson discovered a technique to measure the level of beta cells in the human pancreas.
Pancreatic beta cells function to create insulin, an essential hormone that tells the body to break down glucose from food and turn it into energy the body can use, Jackson said. Diabetes is diagnosed when all beta cells in a person’s pancreas are destroyed.
Unlike the traditional test for Type 1 diabetes that measures the accumulated reservoir of un-signaled glucose, Jackson’s new test focuses on recognizing the destruction of beta cells before all of them are wiped out.
Jackson compared the test to preparing to defend oneself from a certain attack rather than filing a police report after the attack.
Using this proactive method, health professionals might have the chance to quell the progression of the disease and “intervene with therapies” before the disease fully takes hold, McCall, an associate professor of endocrinology, said.
Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine breaks enrollment record and continues rising trend of recent years.
McCall said diabetes is one HCOM’s biggest focus areas, calling both types of the disease a “worldwide epidemic.” According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 29.1 million Americans were reported to have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes in 2014.
The Osteopathic Heritage Foundation provided funds for this project, along with money from an endowment by J.O. Watson awarded to Shwartz, a professor of endocrinology and director of HCOM’s Appalachian Rural Health InstituteDiabetes Center.
Originally from California, this is not Jackson’s first foray into scientific research. In her undergraduate studies at Utah State University, she worked to clone horses, specifically stallions and bucking bulls, which fetch a high price if genetically modified because of their sporting capabilities.
Despite wanting to work as a veterinarian since kindergarten, Jackson said the ability to transform life through science shifted her academic and career interests.
“You can change life, you can alter life, you can create life,” Jackson said about bioengineering. “You have so much potential with the knowledge that we have now.”
Jackson and her mentors are currently pursuing a patent for the test.
“We would love to have this in the hospital,” Jackson said. “To let people and children be tested to see if they’re going to develop (Type 1 diabetes) so we can protect them.”