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Hope for diabetes sufferers in Brooklyn

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There’s hope on the horizon for the 155,000 Brooklynites coping with diabetes, medical experts recently forecast.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) recently released a report detailing 183 new medicines which are currently in human clinical trials and awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a record number of potentially life-changing drugs.

“This killer thrives in communities like ours, where poverty and fast food are prevalent,” said Dr. Richard Becker, president and CEO of The Brooklyn Hospital Center, 121 Dekalb Avenue, where the report was released Dec. 7. Brooklyn’s diabetes rate is the second highest in the five boroughs, Becker noted.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, who has managed his own diabetes for decades, was on hand for the announcement, as was his son, Assembly member Darryl Towns.“Developing new drugs to treat diabetes here in New York City will help address one of the major diseases affecting our community,” the elder lawmaker said in a statement.

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. The cause of the disease is unknown.

An important contributing factor to diabetes is lifestyle, including obesity. Adults who have diabetes are 40 percent more likely to be overweight than those who do not, according to the Public Health Association of New York City. A report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that obesity affects 24.7 percent of Brooklyn’s adults, or 449,900 people.

Prevalence of the disease from 2002-2004, according to the city’s Department of Health, is highest in Bedford Stuyvesant/Crown Heights, where the prevalence was 24,000 people, and Coney Island/Sheepshead Bay, with a prevalence of 24,000 as well. The lowest rate was found in Greenpoint, with 6,000 cases, the data shows.

“We’re a borough of carbohydrate eaters,” according to Dr. Jacob Warman, Chief of Endocrinology at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, who said that has a direct relationship to the high incident rate seen in Brooklyn. “We’ve seen that if you cut down on starches, you can prevent it from coming,” he said.

According to PhRMA, drugs in the development stage include: a first-in-class medicine that significantly improves long-term blood sugar control and targets the dysfunction of pancreas cells, a dysfunction that causes high sugar level in type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease where either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin; a medicine that addresses the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes by modulating genes responsible for insulin sensitization; and a medicine that stimulates the release of insulin only when glucose levels become too high and by suppressing appetite in patients with type 2 diabetes.

“The medicines now in the research pipelines are contributing significantly to the incredible progress made by America’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies in developing new treatments for diabetes and related conditions,” said PhRMA vice president for communications and public affairs Ed Belkin.

Warman, a Midwood resident, said the new push is not only to treat diabetics, but also to prevent the disease.

“People with a significant family history would benefit from being put on medication to prevent diabetes, even before they are diabetic,” he said.

Warman pointed to Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk as companies with particularly promising drugs in their pipelines.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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