Lau and team receive $1.1 million to hunt for risk biomarkers in type 2 diabetes

Serrine Lau with mass spectrometer

Serrine Lau, professor and director of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, serves as the lead principal investigator for the UA and a co-investigator on a new grant from the National Institutes of Health for diabetes research. The research involves a study of human blood samples with the aims of identifying biomarkers for cardiovascular risk in type 2 diabetes.

Using a team approach including a number institutions, Lau is collaborating on the project with Randy Nelson of Arizona State University; Peter Reaven of the VA Hospital in Phoenix and Jim Pearson of Pfizer, Inc., who share the role of principal investigators on this $4.6 million grant. Of that amount, $1.1 million will come to the UA team: Lau, College of Pharmacy, and her long-term UA collaborators Craig Stump and Hussein Yassine of the College of Medicine diabetes program and Dean Billheimer of the Arizona Statistics Consulting Laboratory and Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, College of Science, and a member of BIO5.

The Arizona Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF), in support of this team of investigators from UA’s BIO5 Institute and the ASU Biodesign Institute, kick-started this inter-institutional research initiative in 2007.

According to Lau and Nelson’s grant proposal, diabetes is estimated to be the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. The prevalence of diabetes increased by approximately 50 percent from 1990 to 2000 and is still on the rise. The estimated cost of diabetes in 2007 was $174 billion, the majority of which went to medical diagnosis and treatment.

In response to this epidemic, there are currently more than 350 candidate drugs in development, making diabetes second only to cancer in health-related research and development focus.

Considering that adverse cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke are the major causes of diabetes-related deaths, the FDA recently issued a Guidance for Industry which recommends that new clinical trials for type 2 antidiabetic therapies demonstrate that the therapy will not result in an unacceptable increase in cardiovascular risk. Currently there are no standard markers for cardiovascular risk in the context of type 2 diabetes.

“We saw an opportunity to leverage our expertise to try to improve patient outcomes,” says Lau. “We created a highly integrated, multidisciplinary research team specifically assembled to discover, validate and translate novel biomarkers for cardiovascular complications of type 2 diabetes for use with drug development.

“By using proteomics to analyze more than 400 blood samples, we will be able to see if a statistically significant number of patients who suffered cardiovascular complications from type 2 diabetes had particular biomarkers in their blood. We are looking for these protein ‘signatures’ so we can predict who is likely to suffer cardiovascular complications, and then be able to intervene or slow down progression of the disease.”

The UA will use proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins, to discover the biomarkers; ASU will use complementary proteomics to validate what the UA discovers.

The project, which began in August, is funded for four years.