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Dr. Karen C. Johnson of UTHSC Receives $2.3 Million Grant to Study How Weight Loss and Increased Physical Activity Affect Aging in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes

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Dr. Karen Johnson has received $2.3 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for the Look AHEAD Extension Study.

Karen C. Johnson, MD, MPH, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has received a $2.3 million grant to build on earlier studies to determine if lifestyle interventions focused on weight loss through reduced calorie consumption and increased physical activity can meaningfully improve the lives of older individuals with type 2 diabetes over an extended period as they age.

Dr. Johnson, the Endowed Professor of Women’s Health in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at UTHSC, received the grant from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The new funds will support a project titled “Look AHEAD Extension Study,” which builds on previous research done under the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) Study. The funds will be distributed over five years. Helmut Steinberg, MD, professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism in the UTHSC College of Medicine, is the co-investigator for the project.

More than 25 percent of the U.S. population over age 65 has type 2 diabetes. Of those, approximately 80 percent are overweight or obese. They face shortened lifespans, increased health care needs, medical complications and a lower quality of life than those of similar age without these conditions. Lifestyle interventions focused on weight loss are recommended for overweight and obese individuals with type 2 diabetes, but it is not known whether these interventions improve outcomes over an extended period as they age.

The original Look AHEAD Study, which started in 1999, enrolled 5,145 overweight or obese volunteers with type 2 diabetes, including 313 from the Memphis area. Look AHEAD has already shown that long-term intentional weight loss is possible for persons with diabetes and results in improved blood sugar control, improved blood pressure, and improved cholesterol. UTHSC was one of 16 participating sites, and Dr. Johnson was the principal investigator here. That clinical trial concluded in 2012. However, the project continued as an observational study until January 2016.

The new Look AHEAD Extension Study will pick up where the previous one left off and continue through 2021. The research will follow the cohort that participated in the previous study with an eye toward successful aging. “We think the intensive weight loss intervention will result in more successful aging,” Dr. Johnson said. Whether it will affect mortality remains to be seen.

“We are very excited for Look AHEAD to continue in the Memphis community at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center through a collaboration between the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Division of Endocrinology,” Dr. Johnson said.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has dedicated its efforts to all areas of research related to diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutritional disorders, and obesity; and kidney, urologic, and hematologic diseases. For more information, visit www.niddk.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.