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Pitt wins big grant for heart research

$52.2 million award is for work on diabetes, coronary disease

Friday, February 25, 2000

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The University of Pittsburgh is getting one of the largest research grants in its history, a $52.2-million award that will enable Pitt to become the hub for a nationwide study of coronary artery disease and diabetes.

The seven-year project is expected to begin later this year and will involve approximately 2,600 patients at several dozen centers. It will be headquartered at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health.

The National Institutes of Health notified the university this month that it intends to fund the study. An official letter of award is expected in the weeks ahead, officials with Pitt and the NIH said.

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg announced the grant yesterday at a meeting of the school's board of trustees. Afterward, he and other senior Pitt leaders called it a major boost to the school's expanding research base.

The study's principal investigator will be Dr. Katherine Detre, a professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health.

She is nearing the end of a study on strategies for treating patients with severe coronary artery disease. The new study will enable investigators led by Detre to explore how best to manage diabetic patients with coronary artery disease, said David Gordon, an NIH administrator.

The NIH and Pitt said details of the study and hospitals that will participate are still being finalized.

"She'll need to reach out to an awful lot of places in order to have the patient base and statistical significance she wants, but she is going to be running it," Pitt Provost James Maher said.

Detre yesterday said she was reluctant to discuss the grant until she receives a formal award letter.

Her application sought money to examine the treatment of coronary artery disease in patients with Type 2 Diabetes, by far the most common form of the disease.

Type 2 affects about 90 percent of the 10.3 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, the NIH said. Another 5.4 million people are believed to have Type 2, but have not been diagnosed.

It is most common in overweight adults over age 30. Diabetes has long been identified as a risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and heart failure.

The NIH said cardiovascular complications are now the leading cause of illness and death in diabetic patients.

Money for Detre's study will come from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an NIH agency.

"This is an important study. People who have diabetes develop heart disease at a greater rate and at an earlier age than people who don't have diabetes," said Gordon, a medical officer with the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute who is project officer for Detre's study. "It's not uncommon to have a two- or threefold increase in risk.

"Once they get heart disease they don't survive as well as people who don't have diabetes," Gordon said. "It's a major problem."

He said subjects will be diabetic patients with coronary artery disease who don't need emergency care.

The researchers want to learn if it's better to immediately remove an arterial blockage or to manage the condition through drugs and risk reduction. Researchers will consider the impact of drugs that increase insulin production and others that make the body more sensitive to it.

Several weeks ago Pitt officials announced that the university had become one of the top 10 recipients of NIH funds. They made that rank during fiscal year 1999 by capturing $186.8 million spread over 558 individual grants.

Also yesterday's the board:

Approved a broad statement of university goals for the next five years.

Announced County Executive Jim Roddey was resigning.

Said Pitt will officially kick off what has been described as the largest fund-raising campaign in the university's history on the last weekend in October.

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