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Research update: U of M study takes a closer look at diabetes in the Somali community

In November 2012, as part of Diabetes Awareness Month, Health Talk discussed several diabetes studies taking place at the University of Minnesota to better understand and treat the disease. One of the studies focused on diabetes’ effects in the Somali community.

The study, “Understanding diabetes in Somali children in the Twin Cities, Minnesota,” is led by Muna Sunni, M.B.B.Ch., a University of Minnesota pediatric endocrinology fellow, and Antoinette Moran, M.D., a professor of pediatrics in the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Here’s a quick recap of the study:

The study examines the genetic risk factors for diabetes and diabetes autoantibodies in Somali children with diabetes and compares them to those found in children with diabetes from other ethnic backgrounds across the U.S. Additionally, the study includes a survey designed to help researchers learn more about the cultural and/or religious beliefs of families of Somali children with diabetes and use responses in diabetes education to target specific misconceptions. Several volunteers from the Somali community are actively working on the study, as well.

This study is conducted by the University of Minnesota in collaboration with pediatric endocrinologists at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Recruitment at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota has just launched and data are being collected.

Sunni recently gave Health Talk an update on how the study is going and what’s next for Somali patients with diabetes:

Results of genetic testing and diabetes autoantibodies from the U of M site showed that the Somali patients with type 1 diabetes have high risk genes for developing diabetes and that their diabetes is autoimmune in nature as evidenced by the detection of at least one type of diabetes autoantibodies in all participants.

Sunni and her colleagues are still in the process of comparing these data with data belonging to other ethnic backgrounds in the U.S.

Data from conducting the survey at the U of M site showed that the Somali children with diabetes and their families have a positive attitude towards the pediatric diabetes team. They are accepting of the diagnosis of diabetes and appear to cope well with it. Lack of dietary resources for carbohydrate-counting of traditional Somali foods (an important part of calculating meal insulin doses) emerged as an area of concern.

This prompted another study that will begin soon; Sunni, again is working closely with Antoinette Moran, M.D., Carol Brunzell, R.D., C.D.E., Anne Kogler, R.N., C.D.E., B.S.A., a student, a Somali interpreter and members of the Somali community, to study popular traditional Somali foods and use this information to develop resources for patients of Somali origin that are specifically tailored to meet their needs.

“We’ve made great strides in our research so far but there is still more work to be done,” said Sunni. “The Somali community has been great to work with and we hope that our ongoing relationship will lead to better discussions and understanding of diabetes in this particular community.”

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