UMass Amherst Professor Receives Three-Year, $410,000 Grant for Research on Controlling Diabetes

AMHERST, Mass. – Barry Braun, assistant professor of exercise science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been awarded a three-year, $410,000 grant from the American Diabetes Association to study how combined physical activity and drug treatment can help prevent or control diabetes—especially in people considered most at risk of developing the disease.

Braun says the primary aim of the research is to determine whether adding exercise to treatment with the drug metformin is more effective in preventing the transition from a pre-diabetic condition to Type 2 diabetes than either exercise or drug treatment alone. (Of the 17 million Americans with diabetes, 90 percent have Type 2.) Braun will study 28 people with pre-diabetes who will exercise after receiving metformin or a placebo.

This Junior Faculty Award from the American Diabetes Association is designed to develop the careers of promising young faculty who are expected to have a major impact in preventing or managing diabetes.

“The selection of professor Braun for this award indicates how highly his work is regarded in the medical community, and it provides another example of UMass Amherst’s growing reputation as an outstanding national research university,” said Charlena Seymour, the university’s provost and senior vice chancellor of academic affairs.

It is already known that physical activity is effective in controlling blood sugar, a key to diabetes treatment. Braun’s research will evaluate whether a modest dose of exercise—about 30 minutes of brisk walking—will significantly boost the impact of the drug’s effectiveness. This is important because many more people may be willing to undertake a modest exercise regimen if it is shown that small doses of physical activity can help control their blood sugar levels.

The effectiveness of the drug-and-exercise combination will be examined by looking at changes in the muscle cells themselves (which control how nutrients are used for energy); at the way sugar is taken up from blood in response to the hormone insulin; and in a free-living situation using a new technology that allows blood sugar to be monitored every five minutes for up to three days. This “lab bench-to-bedside” approach will allow Braun to probe basic cell mechanisms, study the impact of treatment in a controlled laboratory setting, and determine if the results are applicable to real-world situations.

In conducting this research, Braun will strengthen his collaboration with Dr. Stuart Chipkin, former chief of the endocrine division at Baystate Medical Center who is now a research professor of exercise science at UMass Amherst. Chipkin will perform the muscle biopsies and oversee the clinical medicine aspects of the study.

The majority of the studies will take place in the department of exercise science at UMass Amherst, although Braun and his graduate students will also travel to Boston with some of the frozen muscle tissue to work with Dr. Laurie Goodyear, associate professor of medicine at the Joslin Diabetes Center. Goodyear is internationally recognized for her work on how exercise causes blood sugar to be taken up and used by muscle cells.