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Neal Devaraj Receives $1.9 Million NIH Award for Diabetes Study

October 24, 2016

Neal Devaraj

Neal Devaraj, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has received $1.9 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop new imaging methods that will help the more than 1 million people in the United States living with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-secreting beta cells of the pancreas.

Molecular imaging tools are needed to monitor the progression of type 1 diabetes, the effectiveness of treatment and to track the viability of transplanted cells. Devaraj and his team of researchers will develop imaging methods to measure beta cell numbers in the pancreas.

Developing a tool that can measure cells that compromise one to two percent of the pancreas has been challenging, said Devaraj. Using existing positron emission tomography (PET) technology, he plans to capitalize on enzymes to amplify signals that sensitize beta cells for improved imaging. Before the onset of disease, this information could inform physicians if a patient is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

“This is a new and exciting direction for our lab,” said Devaraj. “The development of methods that amplify PET signals could lead to valuable imaging tools for monitoring beta cell mass. It could have an enormous impact on the diagnosis, treatment and understanding of type 1 diabetes. Moreover, the same concept might enable us to image very small targets like tumors when they may be invisible by other means. This method has potential to be more broadly applied to other diseases.”

Devaraj’s award is part of  more than $5 million recently awarded by the NIH to UC San Diego researchers for type 1 diabetes research. More at: