Supports stem cell research, conference for diabetes patient educators

FOR RELEASE: March 29, 2007

GALVESTON, Texas - Building upon a commitment to fund diabetes research and patient education, the Emmett and Miriam McCoy Foundation recently contributed $275,000 to support innovative stem cell studies at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, as well as a university-sponsored conference for diabetes patient educators.

Diabetes is an incurable disease that prevents the body from producing or properly using insulin, the hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. There are two types of diabetes: People with type 1 cannot produce insulin, while type 2 hinders the body from properly using the hormone. Although the cause of diabetes is still unknown, researchers have found that genetics and environmental factors, such as sedentary lifestyles and obesity, appear to play significant roles in type 2, the more common form.

The Texas Diabetes Council estimates 1.2 million adults in the state have been diagnosed with the disease. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in Texas, claiming more than 5,600 lives in 2003.

The McCoy Foundation has given $250,000 to the type 1 diabetes research team of Drs. Larry Denner, Ronald Tilton and Randall Urban in the Miriam and Emmett McCoy Diabetes Research Laboratory of UTMB's Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Diabetes Center. The team is working to transform stem cells - primitive cells that divide and form different kinds of cells - into insulin-producing islet cells. Stem cells used in these diabetes studies come from the umbilical cord blood of human placentas that are normally discarded after birth.

The team's latest research, led by Denner, has uncovered the molecular mechanisms that control the growth of stem cells, which are key to overcoming the challenge of growing large numbers of the cells for transplantation into diabetes patients. The results of this stem cell study could lead to significant improvements in the quality of life for type 1 diabetes patients, freeing them from painful daily insulin injections or wearing insulin pumps. The pager-sized pump distributes insulin into the body via a thin tube and needle inserted just beneath the skin.

The research team is also using a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer made possible by an earlier contribution from the McCoy Foundation to help understand how stem cells grow. A device that enables researchers to peer deep into the regulation of thousands of proteins, the mass spectrometer is being used to reveal how the cells divide, either to stay the same or to differentiate. The team employs the mass spectrometer to discover proteins and phosphoproteins essential to stem cell growth and their differentiation into insulin-producing cells as well.

The other part of the McCoy Foundation's contribution, $25,000, supports an annual diabetes conference in Galveston. The conference, now in its fifth year, attracts nurses, physicians and allied health professionals from across Texas and beyond and is coordinated by UTMB's Stark Diabetes Center and Office of Continuing Education. Conference participants receive the latest training for instructing their patients how to better manage their symptoms.

In addition to the conference, the recent McCoy Foundation funding supports efforts at the Stark Diabetes Center to inform health care providers of innovations in diabetes management via an online continuing education program and on-site training throughout the year. The center is one of only a few Southeast Texas facilities dedicated to offering educational programs and resources that help patients manage diabetes.

UTMB President John D. Stobo said the McCoy Foundation's contribution is a strong endorsement of the ongoing diabetes research and education programs at the university. "We consider our programs in diabetes research, prevention and patient care to be among the university's areas of excellence, and we continually strive to make progress against this disease," Stobo said. "We are proud to have the McCoys join us as partners in this crucial endeavor."

Dr. Randall J. Urban, executive director of the Stark Diabetes Center, said the results of the research team's studies could bring hope to the country's nearly 1 million type 1 diabetes patients yearning to live normal lives. "Thanks to the continued support of Miriam and Emmett McCoy, we have been able to make incredible advancements in our understanding of diabetes and novel ways to treat the disease," Urban said. "We are extremely fortunate to have such dedicated benefactors as the McCoys who are just as determined as we are to eradicate this widespread affliction." Urban holds the Edward Randall and Edward Randall Jr. Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine and is chair of UTMB's Department of Internal Medicine.

Emmett McCoy and his wife, Miriam, who has been living with type 1 diabetes for more than 40 years, created their San Marcos-based foundation in 1993. The president and chief executive officer of McCoy's Building Supply Centers from 1950 to 1997, Emmett McCoy opened McCoy Supply Co. in the 1940s with his father, selling roofing materials to the public in the Houston-Galveston area. Today, the company is one of the largest family-owned businesses in the home improvement industry. The McCoys' foundation is separate from the corporation.
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
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301 University Boulevard, Suite 3.102
Galveston, Texas 77555-0144