Feinstein Institute gets $3M for Hispanic health study

Newsday – August 25, 2018

A national research institute has awarded a Long Island medical investigator $3 million to study Hispanic residents throughout the greater metropolitan area who are living with diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the condition, disproportionately affects people of Latin American heritage, said Renee Pekmezaris, an associate professor at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, the grant’s recipient.

Few studies have documented health disparities affecting the Hispanic population or the problems it faces with diabetes, which is widespread. An estimated 33 percent of Latinos nationwide develop the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The award will help put a multipronged study into play that ultimately can help open a new window of understanding about Hispanic patients with diabetes, Pekmezaris said.

“We’re really thrilled about this. These are very competitive grants,” said Pekmezaris, who is also vice president of Community Health and Health Services Research for the Northwell Health system.

Funding is from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute in Washington, which was established by Congress in 2010 as an independent nonprofit, nongovernmental organization aimed at improving the quality and relevance of medical research.

The grant Pekmezaris received is from an $85 million funding pool that allows the patient-centered institute to support research projects aimed at “high burden” conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, opioid addiction and mental health disorders.

Dr. Joe Selby, executive director of the institute in Washington, said the projects “reflect the best ideas for urgently needed research.”

“These new awards will help answer significant questions about treatment and care delivery that are important to patients and those who care for them,” Selby said in a statement.

Type 2 diabetes not only is widespread in the Hispanic community in general, its prevalence among Latinos in the Hempstead area has led to so many lower limb amputations, they exceed the state’s rate for that operation, Pekmezaris said.

She and her team will focus on Hispanic residents of Long Island and New York City with a research emphasis on those living in Nassau near the Queens border.

The research is critical because the Hispanic population has an illness burden and mortality rate that exceeds that of non-Hispanic whites by as much as 100 percent, she said.

Type 2 diabetes, which is characterized by insulin resistance — the ineffectiveness of the hormone to enter cells and lower blood sugar — affects 28.5 million people of all ethnicities nationwide. An additional 1.5 million have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, which occurs when rogue components of the immune system destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

The grant will help Pekmezaris put into action a two-tiered research project that involves an advisory board composed of health disparities experts, clinicians, insurers, representatives from the American Diabetes Association and advocacy groups, as well as patients and caregivers.

In the second part of the research, health care providers will conduct regular online video visits with patients, which will enable direct diabetes monitoring.

Patients will be given iPads for that part of the study and also will be required to record daily blood pressure and blood sugar readings. That phase of the research is expected to begin next year.

“Some Hispanics are undocumented so they have concerns that differ from a white middle-class population,” Pekmezaris said, noting that all participants’ identities will be kept confidential and the research team will strongly abide by health information privacy laws.

“I am confident that we will be able to offer Hispanic patients a telehealth program that makes the diabetes diagnosis less cumbersome,” Pekmezaris said.

“By offering regular check-ins from a medical professional and identifying early warning signs of larger medical issues before the patient becomes sick, we hope to improve quality as well as length of life.”