After completing a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Dr. Sureka Bollepalli wanted her two young children to have the benefit of grandparents nearby so she moved to Tampa to be closer to her husband's family.
A specialist in caring for children with diabetes, Bollepalli was in the right place at the right time. Just as she came here, the University of South Florida
was in the process of putting together a world-class center for diabetes that would give families the benefit of cutting-edge research and medical care, along with the many support services they need to help them cope with the demands of a child with a chronic illness.
"Diabetes has a tremendous impact on families day to day,'' says Bollepalli. "For many families, it can be a constant struggle from the day a child is diagnosed. They never get a break from it. Kids are always having to check their blood sugars; they can't just let it go. That's what drew me to this career path -- the idea of helping families.''
The $2 million, 10,000-square-foot USF Diabetes Center
opened last summer (2011) on the 5th floor of the university's Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare
. Patients now have access to diabetes educators, a dietitian, social worker and a psychologist specializing in diabetes, as well as the latest medical treatments and clinical research studies.
An on-site demonstration kitchen, where dietitians, and eventually area chefs, can teach children and parents how to prepare healthy meals, is part of the program.
Bollepalli says she feels fortunate that right out of fellowship training she found a position with the new USF Diabetes Center that would mirror her previous experience at the children's hospital.
"Having many specialists all focused on one disease and in one setting raises the standard of care,'' says Bollepalli.
Engaging Full Partners
USF has been engaged in diabetes research for more than a decade. But not until recently was a decision made to take the program to the next level and provide the funding and services needed to create a comprehensive center, says Dr. Henry Rodriguez, a pediatric endorcinologist. Rodriguez moved to Florida from Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University in 2010 to be head up the USF Diabetes Center as its new medical director.
"Our goal is to create a partnership in every sense of the word,'' says Rodriguez. "We are partnering with patients to help them improve their blood sugar control, partnering with community physicians by providing a resource for them and partnering with researchers so we have access to the latest therapies.''
According to the American Diabetes Association
, some 25 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes -- that's one in every 400 children and teens.
Diabetes is a metabolic condition in which insulin, a hormone that helps convert sugar and starch from food into energy, can be missing, insufficient or not used properly by the body.
Focus On Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition prevents the body from making insulin. In type 2 diabetes the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or the cells resist it. Children and adults with type 1 diabetes have to take daily insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes can often be controlled with diet, exercise and medication.
Most of USF's research has been focused on type 1 diabetes, for which there is currently no known cause. In 2007, an international research team led by Jeffrey Krischer, Ph.D., director of the USF Pediatric Endocrinology Center
, received a 10- year, $169 million grant to analyze environmental factors that might trigger type 1 diabetes in children.
More recently, the program received a three-year, $3.5 million grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
to determine whether earlier diagnosis and intervention leads to improved long-term outcomes for children and adults with type 1 diabetes. A second, five-year $55.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health
will continue research into environmental factors as a trigger.
"The stakes are high,'' says Rodriguez. "Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, non-traumatic limb loss and a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But thanks to advances in technology and research, there is every reason to have optimism for the future.''
Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.