Controlling insulin levels

Peter Thule


Emory and the Atlanta VA Medical Center

Controlling insulin levels

Greatest Generation

Waking up feeling younger

Every year, more than 10,000 veterans with diabetes come to the Atlanta VA Medical Center for treatment.

As a clinician, Emory endocrinologist Peter Thule cares for many of them, but as a researcher he won’t be satisfied until he finds a way to help them produce the insulin their bodies need to live. My patients inspire me, says Thule.

Take, for example, Tom Jenkins, who was first diagnosed as a 20-year-old Army private. When Jenkins left the Army, he came to the VAMC for treatment, where Thule immediately replaced Jenkins’ daily routine of six insulin injections with a pump that delivers insulin continuously throughout the day. Diabetes patients at VAMC get the best treatment available anywhere, says Thule, but it’s still not good enough.

Diabetes occurs when pancreatic cells produce either no insulin or too little. Thule was not the first to find a gene that enables cells to produce insulin, but he was among the first to figure out how the gene could regulate the amount produced.

His secret? Working in lab space at the VAMC, he injects the gene into the liver, which, like the pancreas, has the ability to sense glucose levels. In rats and other rodents, Thule’s gene has been successful in controlling blood sugar levels and decreasing long-term complications of diabetes, including the vascular disease from which many diabetics eventually die. Thule is now working with cats, which can develop diabetes spontaneously. He believes human trials are only a few years away.

Tom Jenkins is waiting. Meanwhile, he has completed training to be a physician’s assistant, inspired by the care he receives through this extraordinary partnership of Emory and the Atlanta VAMC.

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